It was the thousands of new students who are expected to move to the southern end of the county who were on the minds of Loudoun School Board members Tuesday night.
Several board members mentioned them over and over as they prepared for two important votes.
The first vote was to adopt new attendance zone boundaries to make way for a new elementary school and provide relief for the county’s most crowded school buildings. The second was to approve its Capital Improvement Program, which details the building priorities for the next six years and serves as a funding request to the county Board of Supervisors.
“Tonight we’re focused on providing relief for some of these schools,” School Board member Kevin Kuesters (Broad Run) said. “It’s not fair to the kids or the teachers when we overload schools.”
The board, in an 8-1 vote, backed attendance zone Plan 7, which shifts more than 2,000 elementary school students to different schools next year to free up much-needed space in the Brambleton area. Included in the plan is the reassignment of about 400 students from the overcrowded Creighton’s Corner Elementary in the Dulles North planning area to Sycolin Creek Elementary south of Leesburg.
Even when Madison’s Trust Elementary opens next fall, the Dulles North planning area is projected to have 200 more students than the school buildings in that area have seats. However, the 10 Leesburg-area elementary school buildings have available seats, with their average attendance projected to drop to 81 percent of capacity over the next five years.
That’s space the county cannot afford to waste, said School Board member Jeff Morse (Dulles), who helped draft the adopted plan.
“This plan avoids extreme over capacity which has to be dealt with because it affects the quality of education in Loudoun,” he said. “It’s not responsible.”
The 76,200-student school system is projected to add 9,500 students by 2021, and most of that growth will be in the Dulles North planning area south of the Dulles Greenway.
The shift in attendance lines will buy the school district time until it can find and purchase property and build another elementary school in that area, a process Hornberger said could take five years.
Still, there are hundreds of families who are not keen on new school assignments.
One of the most cited concerns among families reassigned from Creighton’s Corner Elementary west to Sycolin Creek Elementary was that they will lose their current afterschool child care providers.
Cecelia Showalter, a parent of a first-grader, said her and her neighbors’ child care businesses will not pick up students from Leesburg schools. “They sent us all letters and said none of them will pick up from Sycolin Creek,” she said.
For Showalter, that will mean she has to hire a nanny or switch to a Leesburg child care provider. She and the large majority of her neighbors drive east for work, so picking up a child after work in Leesburg would be several miles out of the way, she said.
Thomas Reed (At Large) was the sole dissenter in the Plan 7 vote. He opposed it because it will trigger another round of boundary changes for Leesburg-area schools. Then number of students moved from Sycolin Creek Elementary to Evergreen Mill Elementary puts that school over capacity. That process could commence as early as January.
“Leesburg doesn’t know what’s coming,” Reed said.
Capital Program Adopted
The daunting enrollment projections also informed the board’s vote on its Capital Improvement Plan, the road map for the district’s building needs for fiscal years 2017 to 2021.
Despite concerns voiced by members of the county’s funding body, the Board of Supervisors, the School Board adopted a CIP that requests $257 million for next fiscal year. That is $57 million more than the supervisors’ self-imposed annual debt issuance limit.
But several board members and Superintendent Eric Williams reiterated that they are tasked with presenting the supervisors with the school system’s needs, and they must leave it up to the supervisors to decide whether to fund it.
“We create our CIP based on our needs, so we can’t let county fiscal policy drive our articulation of needs,” Williams said. “It was not without hesitation that we proposed the CIP that we did. These schools are needed.”
He also commended county staff for this week recommending that supervisors increase their annual debt limit to $225 million, a measure that would help deal with the county’s enrollment surge. “I view that as a very commendable good faith effort,” Williams added
The list of capital priorities includes funding for the construction of one Dulles North elementary school, one Dulles South middle school and one Dulles North high school. It requests money to fund the design of a Dulles South elementary school and Dulles South high school. It also calls for $16.32 million for three additional classrooms at six Dulles area elementary schools to make room for full-day kindergarten, as well as another $2.96 million to purchase classroom trailers to house students at the overcrowded Mercer Middle School.
They also agreed to add $17 million into fiscal year 2018 to build three additional classrooms onto six more elementary schools to make room for full-day kindergarten.
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian) hoped to include $1.9 million in fiscal year 2017 for an artificial field at Heritage High School. Her request comes on the heels of the supervisors last week voting to use left over fiscal year 2015 funds to install a new field at Potomac Falls High School, which is in Rose’s district.
Her motion did not get the support of the majority of board members. Vice Chairman Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and others said their priority must be on securing classroom space for the growing number of new students.
“We need to be focusing on providing seats for our students,” she said.