FORT MILL — The Fort Mill school board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the new elementary attendance zone map presented by the administration two weeks ago.
The Oct. 22 recommendation made changes to the original proposal submitted by outside consultant Dale Holden. Since then, there have been multiple public meetings where pockets of Fort Mill residents made it clear they had concerns about the new plan, which was created to accommodate the district’s two new elementary schools that will open in August 2014.
Before voting, each board member commented about the process and the inevitable changes that come with living in a rapidly growing community. By the start of the 2014 year, schools Superintendent Chuck Epps said the district will probably have more than 12,000 students.
“The board definitely recognizes the situation,” said board member Wayne Bouldin. “I don’t think there’s anyone up here specifically that hasn’t been impacted ourselves.”
Each board member has had a student in Fort Mill schools who has had to change schools at some time, he said. His daughter opened up a new elementary, middle and high school as a student.
Board member Diane Dasher acknowledged that changing schools can be hard for everybody – children, parents and teachers.
The students probably have the easiest time of it, she said.
“But we have to move people in order to fill the schools,” she said. “Otherwise, there was no reason to build them.”
Before the board’s discussion began, Epps recommended three things. First, that the map that was presented on Oct. 22 remain the same. Second, that no “grandfathering” be permitted, meaning no grades or groups would be exempt from the shift from one school to another.
“We feel (grandfathering) results in an inefficient use of building space,” he said.
The third recommendation was that the board not delay its decision so that the district could get on with the business of staffing the new schools, alerting families of their assignments for the 2014-2015 school year and the “fun stuff,” like forming new parent-teacher organizations and picking the mascots for the new schools.
The board members agreed.
“We need to make a decision and move on,” Dasher said.
In his comments, board member Tom Audette thanked the parents of Fort Mill for their feedback. Many parents participated in meetings and gave feedback about the original proposal and the modified plan.
Much of that discussion and debate came from residents in the Springfield neighborhood, whose children now attend Springfield Elementary. Those students will move to Fort Mill Elementary.
Springfield residents and parents Rhonda McCall and Yvonne Hay said they love Springfield and are sad to leave, but after meeting the administration of Fort Mill Elementary, they feel more confident about the move.
Another area of contention revolved around Orchard Park Elementary and Riverview Elementary, whose attendance zones border one another’s. These zones were significantly affected by the administration’s recommendation to try to balance the demographics of the two schools.
Orchard Park, located in Baxter Village, had a very active Facebook group and many parents were concerned their children wouldn’t be allowed to attend Orchard Park. Parent Jeff Prater, who has two students at Orchard Park, said he was very happy the board approved the plan and is glad the process is all over.
“I just think it’s important to keep the neighborhoods together,” he said.
Rachel Southmayd • 803-329-4072