Top Priorities

It is important that candidates for the school board are transparent about their priorities. Below is what I would focus on as a board member.

Keep Our Schools Strong Co-Chairs Michelle Angeldorf, Andrew Markners, & Kristin Vining are presented the Fort-Mill/Tega Cay area Citizens of the Year award by Theron Pickens, Regional Chamber of Commerce Chair (left) and Fort Mill Mayor Guynn Savage (right)

“Children First... Every Day”

That is the motto of our school district.

I saw that for the first time when I walked into Sugar Creek Elementary over 7 years ago (editors note: “... every day” was actually added around 2014) and didn’t think much about it. Of course schools would put children first, right?

Over the years I have learned it means so much more than a tag line at the bottom of letterhead, or a few words painted on a wall when you walk in a school.

It is the very succinct guidance our Administration gives to everyone they task with contributing to our district.

It is four words that our community can use to hold our teachers, administration, and school board accountable for doing the right thing.

It is a phrase that I have used in my personal life to guide tough decisions, and, occasionally, a phrase to help recognize I made a mistake.

If elected to the school board, this is the motto that I will ensure guides every decision I make as a trustee.

Safety, Safety, Safety

The Board has continued to focus additional resources on safety, and I think this should continue. We have to look to continue to advance the resources we have focused on physical safety like the recent increase of School Resource Officers. The district also created a new Coordinator of Student Safety focused on safety across the district. There are certainly many ideas on ways we can increase safety and security at our schools, but we must allow the new coordinator to assess where we are compared to best practices. We must then listen to the recommendations coming out of this role and ensure they are implemented in an effective manner.

We must also continue to focus on mental health resources across the district. We made a great stride this year by increasing the presence of mental health counselors in all schools, but we are still in a position of sharing those resources across schools. We should continue to increase resources to the point that we have dedicated mental health counselors at every school.

Support our Teachers & Administration

Accountability in public schools has reached a threshold we have never seen before. High stakes standardized testing, unfunded mandates by legislators who often lack the experience of knowing what happens day-to-day in schools, as well as the pressure of unprecedented growth is a constant stress for the teachers and administration in Fort Mill. I believe we do a much better job of supporting our educators than many other communities which helps in recruiting and retaining the best people. I also believe we have room for improvement here, and the school Board can serve an important role in communicating and educating the community in how we can continue to support our educators.

Promote fiscal responsibility

Our district in general is very fiscally responsible constantly focusing on ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and effectively. We must make sure this continues, particularly as we are forced to place most of the operational burden on the businesses in our community. As we continue to increase operational millage, we continue to widen the gap between the tax rate a business in Fort Mill pays versus surrounding areas, particularly Mecklenburg County. As taxes remains higher on businesses it continues to make our operational budget issues get worse as most new development is residential, which pays little or no school operations.

The general fund budget for this year shows we will spend approximately $8,100 on each student. Almost 40% ($3,188) of that comes from local property taxes which is predominately businesses as Act388 exempts owner occupied residences from paying school operations. That means for every 120 students that are added to the district, the Board must either increase taxes 1 mil (currently at 184mils) or reduce the amount of money we spend on each student. That's 8.3 mils on average each year as we grow by 1,000 students every year. While some of that can be reduced through operational efficiencies as we grow, every year we must make a decision on whether to increase the business tax burnden or cut back resources for our students.

Board members must be active in advocating for changing the public school funding model in our state, although this is a long term solution and an uphill battle. We must get creative in ways that Fort Mill can deal with this, and this will be discussed more in the "Research" section of this site.

Continue focus on proactive facility planning

We have been very successful at being proactive in building and maintaining our facilities. We have been forced to have continuous referenda as part of this process. During the latest referendum we showed how growth has continued to accelerate (see research), and beginning next year the current elementary schools will in aggregate be at full capacity. This year we will have at least 3 of 9 elementary schools over capacity and on an enrollment freeze (causing the stress of growth at other elementary schools to increase).

We must continue to be proactive in building new schools, and with the passage of the impact fee we have the ability to do this even more without increasing the tax burden on our residents. We should focus on the program capacity of our schools as opposed to the building capacity. The program capacity takes into account the programs that we place in a school as opposed to assuming every classroom has 25 students in it. For example special education classes in schools reduce the program capacity by 15-20 students for each class because those classrooms may only have 5 or 10 students in them. We should recognize in every way that this is a valuable use of resources and measure a schools capacity with taking this into account.

Advocate for our schools

One of the challenges our schools have faced in effecting change in our state government is that there is very little organized advocacy on behalf of our public schools. In fact, there is a massive amount of organized advocacy against public education in our state. Whether it be the coastal tourism industry advocating to keep a law in place mandating the earliest a school can start (thereby forcing our school calendar to not provide the best opportunities), or the homebuilding industry spending $350,000 to fight against the implementation of our school building impact fee, there are significant groups working against solving our concerns.

I believe it is a responsibility of our school Board to educate our community on political issues facing our schools, and to advocate for change to improve the state of funding in our schools.

Did you know that the formulas for funding our schools still take into account the ability of our school Board to tax our residents, even though Act388 takes away that ability?

Did you know that Act388 will cost our school district over $20,000,000 dollars this year?

Did you know that our state legislature mandated our school district contribute an additional $1,800,000 to the state retirement system without providing funding for that?

Did you know in the 2017 state budget Senator Wes Climer advocated for funding to help solve these problems for fast growing districts, but by the time it was passed it was spread across almost half of the school districts in our state, resulting in just over $100,000 for Fort Mill? And that was eliminated in this year's budget?

Our administration and school Board has been forced to deal with all of these issues. We should continue to advocate for our schools and ramp up education efforts for our community around these issues.

Continue to build relationships

It is important to build relationships with the community, fellow Board members, the administration, our county/city/town councils, state lawmakers, and many more.

For the community, it is important to keep a finger on the pulse of our citizens. This will allow a Board member to act confidently that they are representing the interests of the community overall. As a Keep Our Schools Strong co-Chairperson, I had the privilege of working with the community on supporting district and community goals.

For fellow Board members, it is important to remember that each person is only one of seven members entrusted with our schools. It is impossible to affect change or even continue positive momentum without building relationships with other Board members. I have positive relationships with all current Board members, and if elected I will continue to build on that.

For the administration, it is important to build relationships so that you can learn, question, and challenge while simultaneously supporting the administration. This is a critical balance that Board members must focus on, and one that I have built a solid foundation on during my time advocating for the 2018 bond referendum and impact fee.

For the local councils, it is critical to build relationships as the school district is one of several government entities who must work in harmony with each other in order to deliver the best community for our residents and businesses. Members of all three councils (York county, City of Tega Cay, and the Town of Fort Mill) have encouraged me to run for the school Board. If elected, I believe I have a solid foundation in these relationships in order to continue to build on the progress we have made in inter-governmental relations over the past year.

Relationships with state lawmakers and other government contacts are important to be able to advocate for our district. I will continue to build on those relationships in order to help educate our lawmakers and advocate for our district.

Appropriately Balance all priorities

There are many priorities the district must appropriately balance, most of which don't make a top priorities list such as this. We must communicate to the administration our feelings on priorities and encourage the professionals we employ to lead our district to educate our Board on the correct balance of all of these priorities and support them in their recommendations. As we fully support our administration we can then hold them accountable to the Board and community for ensuring continued success of our school district overall.
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