Editor: While the School Board made a logical decision to delay the acceptance of the $833.95 million Capital Improvement Program until the Catoctin District has a seated representative, it is still disheartening to hear the continued argument to close two schools in this district based solely on potentially inaccurate data.
I attended the Nov. 19 School Board meeting and listened to many members question the accuracy of the data that is being used to make these decisions—particularly the projected growth rate data for western Loudoun. The proposed school closures would add additional students to neighboring schools—one of which is already at capacity, and the other would exceed the target capacity of 85 percent, even before the estimated 232 students move into the region over the next 22 years.
Of particular concern is the assertion by School Board Member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) that by closing Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools the totality of those students would consolidate into Kenneth Culbert Elementary—and would, by the numbers, make more sense financially. I see two likely outcomes of this scenario. If this simple re-bucketing of students plays out, Kenneth Culbert Elementary will be at 92 percent capacity immediately, higher than the county recommended 85 percent capacity. The second, more likely, outcome is that a large region gets rezoned so that a number of families from Emerick and Kenneth Culbert are upended and moved to another elementary school. A disruptive action that would affect families across four schools, with an end result of two elementary schools that are at or over capacity.
In closing schools, there may possibly be short-term savings, but with the likelihood that we would be quickly starting a discussion on the need for a new school building in a few years. If these schools close, the cost per student ($13,500 for Lincoln students and $17,900 for Hamilton students) will follow the students to whatever school they attend. Teachers and staff will remain employed by LCPS and the building will continue to operate. It would be a decision that merely disrupts schooling that is operating successfully.
As the School Board emphasizes the necessity to make financially responsible decisions, then why hasn’t it taken advantage of available tax dollars to operate the Lincoln school building by allowing it to be registered as an historic building? A decision that only requires a signature by the same school board at this point. Also, why have they opted to hire additional teachers in neighboring schools to squeeze in more classrooms while some capacity remains at Lincoln?
If the School Board is truly looking out for the efficiencies and success of the school system, look no further than Lincoln Elementary, an example of high performance on truly low operating costs. The school is granted fewer specialists than other schools in the county, they don’t operate a kitchen (both less cost, but equally unfair) yet the SOL scores are outstanding and the school earned the 2018 Governor’s Board of Education Excellence Award—one of only eight elementary schools earning this award in Loudoun County. An award that was earned in four prior years as well. They have dedicated teachers, a supportive community, and staff that regularly go above-and-beyond to make this school excel. Lincoln Elementary is a school that the County should be using as an example of high efficiency with equally high results.
Kate Pendleton President, Lincoln Elementary PTO