The 60 or so parents, students and staff members from Lucketts Elementary who gathered at Tuesday’s School Board meeting erupted in applause after a split vote fell their way.
Following a heated debate, the board voted to formally request $3.1 million in county dollars left over from fiscal year 2017 to build a three-classroom addition at Lucketts Elementary.
“We did it,” one parent whispered to a young student after the vote, followed by a high five.
The decision comes after Lucketts parents and school staff attended School Board meetings for almost a year to ask for more space. They held signs and lined up to speak at meetings, detailing just how crowded the 45-year-old building has gotten.
“By voting yes, you are affirming the value of equal educational facilities by reestablishing full-day kindergarten and creating an art and music room,” Amy Tribie, president of Lucketts Elementary’s PTA, told the board Tuesday.
As the school’s enrollment climbed above the building capacity in recent years, the art and music classroom were converted to a kindergarten classroom. Art and music teachers now transport their supplies on carts. The school’s tightening quarters has also required some of its special education and remedial lessons to take place in small offices, hallways and the cafeteria.
Should the county Board of Supervisors give some of its surplus dollars to the School Board for the new classrooms, it would boost Lucketts Elementary’s building capacity from 286 to 355 by fall of 2019. The addition would allow the school to offer full-day kindergarten and have a designated art and music classroom.
The two board members who voted against the classroom addition, Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) and Debbie Rose (Algonkian), said they were primarily opposed to the process. Both noted that most building projects are prioritized alongside other capital needs each year when the School Board adopts its Capital Improvement Program. Funding the classroom addition with money left over from the fiscal year that ended in June as opposed to the School Board’s 2019-2024 CIP accelerates the project by several years.
Hornberger said since his colleagues wanted to fast-track the Lucketts project, it’s meant they haven’t had time to look at the best solutions. “I’m still scrambling to try to get what the need is and what the best solution is, not just for the Lucketts community but all other communities,” he said.
Reassigning some students to Waterford Elementary School, which is operating at just more than half its capacity, is an option worth considering, Hornberger added. “There is available capacity there, and we just added a policy that says if we can rezone to make full-day kindergarten an option to consider doing that.”
In her comments, Rose said, “I do not doubt that there is definite need, as there is at a lot of our older schools. … I just disagree with the process.”
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), who represents the Lucketts area, said his colleagues have had almost a year to look at various solutions. “This is well thought out, well quantified and makes good common and fiscal sense,” he said.
Last year, the School Board requested about $7 million in county surplus funds for textbooks, buses, and an artificial turf field for Heritage High School. The year before that, Rose helped lead an effort to have county fund balance dollars earmarked for improvements at Potomac Falls High School, including two classroom trailers and an artificial turf field.
“Folks, I’m asking for classroom to teach kids. Not turf fields,” DeKenipp said, referring to previous years’ funding requests.
“This is not a cosmetic issue. It isn’t trying to make the school pretty. It’s not bumping them up on a priority list,” Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said. “It is addressing a capacity issue right away.”
The School Board is also requesting $3.9 million of the county’s year-end surplus to replace a wastewater treatment plant that serves Lucketts Elementary and two county facilities: the Lucketts Community Center and the Lucketts Volunteer Fire Department’s station. It will also serve a new fire station that is under construction.
Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis said it would be ideal to replace the water treatment plant at the same time the classrooms are being added to the elementary school. “We would propose doing them together because it would mean less disruption on the site,” he said.
Supervisors are scheduled to begin talks about how to spend county dollars left over from last fiscal year within the next few weeks.