Baxter residents cheer new school zone plan

joverman@fortmilltimes.comOctober 8, 2013 

— More than 200 people gathered at Nation Ford High School Tuesday night to hear a proposal for new elementary school reassignment lines.

Despite earlier warnings from the district’s consultant that neighborhoods may be split during the reassignment process, the proposal unveiled at Tuesday’s meeting keeps neighborhoods largely intact, including Baxter Village.

Baxter residents erupted into cheers upon hearing that the community would not be split into two attendance areas, but would remain zoned for Orchard Park Elementary.

If the school board approves the plan, the City of Tega Cay will be split among Tega Cay and Gold Hill elementary schools, but individual neighborhoods within the city will be zoned for the same school. The Lake Ridge community of Tega Cay and much of the surrounding area remains zoned for Gold Hill Elementary in the proposal and Lake Shore, among others, would attend the new Tega Cay Elementary now under construction.

The new Doby’s Bridge Elementary School would be populated by students living from Fairway Drive and Williams Road toward the Lancaster County line, including the WhiteGrove, Dominion Bridge, Massey and Huntington Farms neighborhoods.

Baxter Village residents showed up to the meeting en masse after rumors flew through the community that a plan was going to be considered to split Baxter, down Sutton Road, into separate attendance zones. A Facebook page and a petition were created to resident such a proposal, but no such plan ever existed, Superintendent Chuck Epps said.

“That’s not accurate at all,” Epps said. “There were no previous plans. We started with a clean slate.”

Sheri Michael, the parent of an Orchard Park student, said after hearing the proposal that she was concerned at the disparity between the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch at Riverview and Orchard Park elementary schools. The proposal shows Riverview Elementary School with a 6.5 percent increase in students eligible for free and reduced lunch, from 44.3 percent to 50.8 percent, while Orchard Park will drop from 15.8 percent to 5.3 percent.

“At the end of the day I want my child to interact with all kinds of people. And I worry about the level of [parental] support the school will receive,” Michael said.

PTO and volunteer participation is often higher at schools with a lower percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch, she said, and she worries that increasing that rate at Riverview could put a burden on the school.

Dale Holden, an outside consultant hired by the district to create the proposal, said that based on surveys received earlier this year, preserving neighborhoods was most important to parents. He focused on preserving neighborhoods and demographics such as the percentage of students receiving free and reduced lunch were not weighted as heavily, he said.

“The bottom line is, [the] Fort Mill School District is doing a good job of educating all of its children,” he said.

Holden worked on the proposal for three to four months, using demographics from the district and taking into account new subdivisions slated for the township.

Right now, 10,802 new homes are in the pipeline inside the school district.

“There is a significant impact from these developments and the district needs to be smart, even though we don’t know who will move into these homes,” Holden said.

Baxter resident Jeff Sopel said he was happy with the proposal, but still disappointed with what he sees as unchecked growth in the community creating problems for the district. He said the district needs more cooperation from town and county planning officials to manage growth.

“I feel Dr. Epps is being dealt a bad hand by the planning boards not having planned growth. No one is saying, ‘Can you handle this growth?’” Sopel said.

The school district will put the maps and materials from the meeting online for parents to view. Feedback about the proposal is encouraged and can be submitted online. The proposed map can also be viewed at each of the district’s elementary schools.

Middle and high school attendance zones will remain unchanged.

Epps said he will consider comments and ideas from the public before he makes a recommendation to the school board at the Oct. 22 school board meeting. Feedback will continue to be received until the Nov. 5 school board meeting, when the school board is planning a vote to finalize new attendance zones.

For more on the proposal, go to fort-mill.k12.sc.us.

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