It appears one of the smoothest Loudoun County budget seasons in memory will conclude with a disappointing thud. That happened last week with the School Board’s surprise debate over whether to close two western Loudoun schools.
It wasn’t just that most area residents thought the issue was largely closed following the conversion of small schools in Middleburg and Hillsboro to public charter operations in recent years. More concerning was the fact that the topic never came up during more than a month of School Board deliberations over the superintendent’s proposed budget. If providing neighborhood schools in Lincoln and Hamilton is viewed as a waste of taxpayers’ money, that would have been the time to raise the issue.
Raising the issue later allows the appearance that it was offered as a retaliatory strike against the county board, or perhaps specifically the two western Loudoun supervisors who were among those who opposed full funding of the requested school budget in favor of a slightly lower real estate tax rate.
The School Board’s discussion made it clear once again that some members view western Loudoun’s small schools as part of a problem rather that part of a solution.
Overcrowded schools are not just a concern in fast-growing eastern Loudoun neighborhoods; many Leesburg-area schools also are operating in tight quarters. Eliminating 400 elementary school seats—seats that have long been paid for—is nonsensical. And we should transport more students to schools farther away even though the largest complaint this year was not having enough money to buy buses?
The issue is too serious to be weighed in such an ad-hoc fashion. If school system administrators want to take another look at this long-debated issue—and there’s no reason to—it should be done in a thoughtful, comprehensive fashion, not in the heat of a budget battle. And if approached in that manner, we’re confident school leaders will reach the same conclusion as previous exercises: That these schools provide an educational and community value far greater than could be achieved by closing them.