“The growth has surpassed anything we have planned.”
That was Loudoun County School Board member Jeff Morse’s assessment when he saw the final enrollment count for the current school year during last night’s meeting.
Countywide, 82,485 students have enrolled in Loudoun’s public schools. That’s 1,250 more students than last year. Surprisingly, it is the smallest incremental growth Loudoun’s school system has seen in recent years by far. But much of the county’s population growth has been concentrated in the southern end of the county. Planners expected high enrollment numbers there, but they underestimated just how high.
The brand new Goshen Post Elementary School off Braddock Road opened with 1,140 students. That’s 227 more students than expected, and 180 students more than the building was designed to hold.
Five miles north, the one-year-old Madison’s Trust Elementary has enrolled 1,225 students this year. That’s 87 more than projected and 219 more than the building’s capacity.
“In the elementary schools, we significantly underestimated enrollment,” Morse told planners when they delivered the news. “We’re going to have to look at options for those areas because those schools cannot contain any more children.”
Concerns about overcrowded schools hit close to home for Morse. The Dulles District, which he represents, has seen students move in faster than schools can be built. Morse said the only option he can see at this point, aside from redrawing attendance boundaries, is expanding existing buildings.
“Short of having any boundary changes, that’s the only lever I see that we have left,” he said.
In response, Assistant Superintendent of Support Services Kevin Lewis said he wasn’t prepared at this point to give details of his staff’s plans to provide more classroom space in the south. But, he noted, the School Board did save space in its Capital Improvement Program for six three-classroom additions. The CIP serves as a six-year planning document for the school system’s capital projects.
Lewis said he and Superintendent Eric Williams would present their recommendations for which campuses should get those additions when they present the full CIP for fiscal years 2020-2025 at the Oct. 23 meeting.
Planners’ enrollment estimates were closer for the middle and high schools, where the rate of growth slowed slightly. Secondary schools that have been stretched in recent years actually will get some relief this year, in part because of the opening of Willard Intermediate School.
Stone Hill Middle School counted 1,017 students, 123 below the projections and 361 below the building’s capacity. Rock Ridge High School counted 2,225 students, 63 less than expected and 177 below capacity. John Champe High School has enrolled 1,656 students—78 fewer students than expected with room for 548 more in the building.
With the latest numbers in hand, planners also presented their best guess for enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year, a number Williams will use to help craft his operating budget for next year. They expect 1,277 more students next year to bring the countywide enrollment to 83,762.
Although the population boom has hit one part of the county particularly hard, overall the rate of growth is slowing throughout the county. The growth in the past year is the smallest jump the county has seen in several years. The division grew by 2,603 students from fall 2013 to 2014 (73,461); by 2,802 from fall 2014 to 2015 (76,263); by 2,738 from fall 2015 to 2016 (79,001); and by 2,555 from fall 2016 to 2017.