This probably is not the best time to propose new spending for the Fort Mill School District — but we’re going to anyway.
Fort Mill, like eight other S.C. districts, approved budgets for the upcoming school year only to learn a couple of weeks later that state lawmakers had cut $20 million in public school funding from the 2012-13 state budget. That left Fort Mill with $1.2 million less revenue than it thought it would have going into next year.
On top of that, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed about $10 million in public school funding that may or may not be restored by the legislature with an override. It’s unclear how that would affect Fort Mill schools.
Fort Mill Superintendent of Schools Dr. Chuck Epps said the district can absorb the $1.2 million cut by shifting money set aside for new projects into the 2012-13 budget, but that, “Next year’s budget is when it will be challenging for us,” and it might be necessary to discuss increasing taxes or cutting programs to make ends meet.
That’s why it might seem like poor timing to suggest the district find a way to restore some funding for middle school sports. But another way to look at it is that spending money on middle school sports is an investment.
When a drastic reduction in state spending on public education caused Fort Mill to eliminate middle school sports, the school board agreed to revive the programs as long as they are self-funded.
An organization of concerned parents and other supporters formed and managed, through tireless fundraising, to come up with the money needed to fund middle school sports the past two years.
The centerpiece of this past year’s effort was a Dancing With The Stars competition that required months of dedication and hard work from both the participants and the organizers.
If this is the type of effort it’s going to take to keep the programs afloat, it seems like an unsustainable burden. Even the most relentless campaigns are bound to hit the wall, but especially when so many other causes — some arguably more vital than sports, such as the Fort Mill Care Center — are competing for limited donations.
People here are generous, there’s no doubt about that. But at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet while contending with or recovering from the economic roller coaster of the past five years, it would be understandable if donation fatigue sets in at some point.
To prevent the elimination of middle school sports — programs that are an important part of a wholesome childhood education and in combating this state’s obesity epidemic — we’d like to see the district incrementally restore funding. The school board doesn’t have to find the money all in one year, but it could at least find room to support a percentage of the cost, and take some of the burden off parents and other boosters next year. Then, gradually work back up to fully funding the programs.
Investing in local students, both inside and outside the classroom, pays dividends for the entire community.