The School Board’s proposal to divest ownership of the Middleburg Community Charter School building continues to find opposition from the school’s leaders, the Town of Middleburg, Loudoun County staff members and—evidently—Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn).
“Don’t pass the buck. Do your job,” Buona said during a meeting of the joint Board of Supervisors and School Board Committee on Thursday.
School Board members have discussed whether to declare the building to be surplus property and have suggested conveying the property either to the Town of Middleburg or the nonprofit that operates the public charter school. The school system has been leasing the property to Middleburg Community Charter School’s board of directors for $1 a year since 2014, the year the public elementary school closed and the charter school moved in. It is thought to be the oldest operating school building in Loudoun.
If the School Board surpluses the building, by state code, the Board of Supervisors has no choice but take it over. School Board members have suggested giving the building to the nonprofit or the Town of Middleburg—but both have indicated they can’t afford to keep it up. And county staff members have estimated it will cost the county nearly four times as much to maintain the building than it does school system.
Buona said that would put the Board of Supervisors in the position of deciding whether to maintain an active school or close it down. He said that’s a way of sidestepping a conversation on the School Board about whether to keep small schools in the west open.
“You’re putting the dirty work on the Board of Supervisors,” Buona said. “If you want shut down the small school, shut it down, but don’t put it on the Board of Supervisors to have to make the decision that the School Board has not been willing to make.”
School Board members have worried the cost of keeping the building open are too high. In addition to operational and maintenance costs, the building is slated for almost $7 million in improvements over next 13 years, and possibly more depending on a detailed assessment of the aging building’s condition. School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the school costs far more per pupil to keep open than other schools.
“The School Board is obviously concerned fiscally with how we intend to continue to support that small population, even in a charter school environment,” Morse said. He said he is not an advocate of closing small schools.
But Buona said the School Board needs to “man up” and decide whether to renegotiate its contract with the charter school, close the school, or keep supporting it as-is.
“You would be putting us in the position of spending a lot more taxpayer money and keeping the school open, or being the bad guy to say we’re shutting the school down, and it kind of washes your hands,” Buona said.