After months of debate in hours-long meetings, and accusations that a committee chairman deliberately slow-walked the decision with parliamentary rules, the School Board’s finance committee has recommended a policy that will guide the board should it want to close a school building.
The policy does not include a recommendation to close any schools, but would stand up rules for notifying the community and gathering public input, lay out factors for the School Board to consider when deciding, and hold that the School Board will consider the impact on attendance boundaries.
The vote was taken Tuesday at a special meeting of the finance committee, the ninth meeting on the topic. Committee Chairman Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) has been accused of using his position to try to block a vote.
At the last meeting, he suggested developing “quantifiable method” to determine when schools should be closed, but that idea met resistance. School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said considering the number of variables in the cost of running and maintaining a school from year to year, “I would not feel comfortable trying to peg it into specific numbers.”
Creating the policy was first put into motion after last year’s annual budget work, when four School Board members favored holding a public hearing to consider closing Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools. The board members who opposed closing the schools during the time crunch of budget season suggested the board form an ad hoc committee to draft a policy that would guide such a process.
A month later, the Legislative and Policy Committee got to work on it. After that group worked for a few months, DeKenipp brought the debate into his Finance and Facilities Committee.
At the special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 13, the finance committee voted 2-1 to recommend the policy to the full School Board. DeKenipp was opposed; Morse and School Board member Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) voted yes.
“It is a detriment, I feel, not only to my community and my constituents, but for the county as a whole,” DeKenipp said. “Our western schools—and this is what it’s primarily looking at, or what we will be looking at—bring forth a culture and the community aspect that really make Loudoun County a special place to live in. And if we look at creating these larger, metropolitan schools in rural Loudoun, we’re significantly impacting not only the community and the history that the community has, but potentially also the economy.”
The decision now goes to the full School Board.