Vote ‘yes’ in Fort Mill’s school bond referendum

April 23, 2013 

Some people like to say elected officials wield all the power in this country. We disagree. In any true democracy it’s voters who have the real power, and next week they get to exercise it.

On Tuesday, April 30, registered voters who live in the Fort Mill School District will decide a simple question: Should the district raise $54 million in a bond sale? Another way to put it is, do you believe in the idea that Fort Mill is defined by its schools?

Any way you slice it, the answer should be “yes.”

Local schools have been a source of pride in Fort Mill even when it was still a sleepy mill town a fraction of its present size. Public investment in the school system has been a by-product as well as a driver of growth for a couple of decades now, and it’s inevitable that as new homes continue to be built and purchased by young families, the district has to expand. In some aspects, residential growth is already outstripping school capacity.

Attendance freezes and redistricting have been used to compensate for a lack of school space, and for the first time since Nation Ford became the district’s second high school in 2007, Fort Mill High has had to install two modular units to house a student population expected to swell to 1,790 when the new school year begins in August.

At Nation Ford, there are 1,513 students in a school built to hold 1,800, and by the next school year that number is expected to be 1,562.

Officials signaled the need to build a third high school more than a year ago, but sensing a tough sell, came up with a less expensive idea: Ask voters to approve the financing to expand Nation Ford and Fort Mill high schools and build a new Riverview Elementary School on property the district bought last year. The bond sale would also pay for upgrades to Fort Mill High School, which would absorb the existing Riverview campus next door.

Here’s the cost if voters approve the sale: For residential property owners, taxes would rise $66 a year on a home valued at $100,000 if the bond measure is approved; For homes with an assessed valuation of $250,000, the annual tax increase would be $165 annually.

It’s not an unreasonable sum, especially if you weigh it against the benefits of a healthy school district. And anyone who has attended, worked in or visited an overcrowded school should know the drag that puts on the mission of education.

For property owners, supporting school expansion is also another form of investment in their homes.

The high schools are expected to reach capacity in the 2015-16 school year. That’s why the Charlotte Regional Realtor Association Board of Directors endorsed the Fort Mill School District’s plans. In a recent statement, the group’s board said, “This referendum affects the quality of life for not only the 278 association members and Carolina MLS Subscribers who live in Tega Cay and Fort Mill, but also for the real estate brokers who represent more than 700 properties currently listed in those cities.

“One of the biggest financial issues facing local governments is the building and maintenance of schools. Many growing communities need to add schools quickly. In addition to meeting the demand of increased capacity at the high schools, this referendum will also fund security improvements at all schools in the district. The bond referendum is a responsible way to pay for the needed capital improvements to the public schools, which are vital to the health of the local real estate market.”

Voting is power. Use it wisely and vote “yes” on April 30.

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