Grappling with growth, Charlotte-area town shuts down enrollment at elementary school

The Fort Mill School District has seen a big surge of incoming students following the wave of explosive growth that’s reshaping the area south of Charlotte, and the school board decided Tuesday to freeze enrollment at one elementary school as a consequence.

Students who aren’t signed up to attend Doby’s Bridge Elementary by 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 won’t be able to attend the K-5 school this year. The freeze affects all grades at the elementary school. Students who enroll after that, such as those who move to the Doby’s Bridge attendance zone, will be assigned a different school based on capacity.

“The freeze was enacted due to the growing student population numbers as a result of new growth and development in the area,” the school system said in a statement. “This action was taken to allow class sizes to remain at acceptable levels and not overload the building capacity.”

Students who would take a bus to Doby’s Bridge Elementary will still take that bus. They’ll be shuttled from Doby’s Bridge to their assigned school by a second bus, and returned via the same shuttle every day. Earlier in August, the school board froze enrollment for all new grades at Gold Hill Elementary School for students who aren’t enrolled by Sept. 1. New students in the Gold Hill zone who enroll after that will have to attend Tega Cay Elementary School, about three miles away.

A district spokesman said Doby’s Bridge Elementary, which opened in 2014, has a capacity of 1,000 students.

“Our projection is that the school would be over capacity without the freeze,” said Joe Burke.

5,9292002-2003 enrollment at Fort Mill schools

14,8422017-2018 projected enrollment

Over the past decade, people who work in Charlotte have continued to move to Fort Mill and upstate South Carolina, seeking lower property taxes and perceived better schools. And Fort Mill has emerged as more than a bedroom community for Charlotte, luring major employers such as LPL Financial and Lash Group with thousands of jobs.

Enrollment in Fort Mill’s schools has shot up over the past 15 years, nearly tripling. In the 2002-2003 school year, there were just under 6,000 students enrolled in the entire district.

The district saw double-digit growth rates in some years, with the number of students growing to more than 10,000 by 2010 and hitting 14,155 by the 2016-2017 school year.

Since then, the school district has added almost 700 more students in a year, bringing its projected enrollment to just under 14,900 for the current school year.

Fort Mill operates nine elementary schools, five middle schools, and two high schools. The district is building a third high school, and its newest middle school opened this month.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo