Fort Mill schools superintendent Chuck Epps has developed a sensible plan for managing the district’s projected growth during the next 15 years.
Rather than ask voters to pay for the immediate construction of a third high school, Epps last week proposed expanding Fort Mill and Nation Ford high schools by 2014. His proposal costs taxpayers significantly less while creating minimal problems for students.
Despite the Great Recession, the Fort Mill district continues to be challenged by rapid growth. While enrollment fell or held steady in most other districts during the last few years, Fort Mill’s grew by an average of 4 percent annually. The growth is expected to continue, with the district topping 16,000 students by 2020.
That would be 40 percent more students than the district has today.
Fort Mill leaders took steps in recent years to ease crowding at elementary and middle schools. Two elementary schools will open in August 2014 to alleviate the current crowding at three other schools. Banks Trail Middle School, which opened last year, eased the burden at district middle schools.
Now, just five years after Nation Ford opened, the district must avoid high school overcrowding. Nation Ford and Fort Mill are each expected to reach their 1,800-student capacities in two years. District leaders are faced with either building a third high school or expanding the current campuses.
Building a high school is expected to cost $110 million. That would mean “a pretty significant increase in taxes,” Epps said last week. “In this economy, it’s going to be a real challenge.”
Epps’ predicts his plan would cost $49.5 million. The money would pay for increasing the capacity at both high schools by 600 students each. Also, Riverview Elementary, located adjacent to Fort Mill High, would be replaced to make room for expansion.
The proposal would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an extra $52 a year in taxes, according to the district.
School officials acknowledge they eventually will have to build a third high school, probably by the mid 2020s. But by delaying construction, the district saves taxpayers a lot of money in a still shaky economy.
We also think a delay gives the district more time to determine how the rapid changes in digital technology impact public education. In a dozen years, will thousands of students be sent to one location every weekday to learn? It’s possible. But it’s also possible that technology will create significantly different options for teaching children.
One drawback to Epps’ plan is that today’s first graders will likely attend large high schools. If Nation Ford and Fort Mill each had 2,400 students last year, they would have been South Carolina’s fourth- and fifth-largest high schools.
Larger enrollments mean more students compete for positions in sports, cheerleading, band, and other activities. Also, a larger student body increases the chance that some students get lost in the system.
But those issues can be managed. Epps’ plan is clearly the best option for Fort Mill. We urge the school board and district voters to support it.
From The Herald