Loudoun school leaders are asking for a change in state law that would allow them to charge to bus students to optional educational activities, including Thomas Jefferson High School or Loudoun’s Academy of Science.
The School Board on Tuesday adopted its 2017 Legislative Program that outlines a list of priorities it wants state legislators to champion for them in Richmond. The most debated item in the program, which was approved in a split vote, is a request for the flexibility to charge students a fee for transportation to non-compulsory school programs.
The request stems from a difficult budget season two years ago when the board was faced a decision to eliminate bus service for Loudoun students who attend Thomas Jefferson High School, a magnet school in Fairfax County. Parents packed the board room, asking that the board at least let them pay for the service as opposed to getting rid of it all together.
“But we didn’t have that option. We only had two options: cut it or keep offering it,” Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said. “This is just simply asking for the School Board to have the option to do it; whether we do it can be discussed at a later time.”
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), one of two board members who opposed the request, said the school system “nickels and dimes” families as is through excessive fees for things like extracurricular activities and parking. “It’s going to frustrate families countywide and it’s going to put free and reduced lunch kids in a place where they may not be able to afford to take part in school activities.”
Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) was the other board member in opposition, also because of concerns that it would prohibit students from low-income families from attending Thomas Jefferson or other magnet programs.
Board members in support of the motion said the school system waives fees for families who cannot afford them, and would do the same with bus fare.
“I’m not for nickel and diming families either,” Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) said, in response to DeKenipp. “But we have to remember our primary goal is to educate our children. So if we have to come up with creative ways to provide extra activities then so be it.”
The Legislative Program asks for local school board bot be given authority to control several other areas, including the school year calendar. Right now, a state statute—dubbed the Kings Dominion Law—prohibits public schools from beginning the academic year before Labor Day, unless they receive a waiver from the state that takes into account the number of snow days from previous years.
[See the adopted 2017 Legislative Program here.]
The School Board is scheduled to present the Legislative Program to lawmakers during its annual Legislative Breakfast on Friday, Dec. 2.