I support Jeanine Lawson for Brentsville District Supervisor

Eleven years ago I attended the first meeting of the Prince William County School Board that I’d ever attended.  My youngest child, who attended with me, was 5 months old.  My oldest child, who stayed home, was 3.  It seems strange, now, that I attended and sat through a several hours long school board meeting, with a 5 month old in tow, when my own children wouldn’t even be attending public school for another 2 years.

Overcrowding at Cedar Point Elementary is what compelled me to attend that meeting.

Despite opening 3 new elementary schools, Ellis in 2004 and Victory and Glenkirk in 2005, Cedar Point would remain overcapacity, generally with enrollment over 1100 students in a school built for 850, until the fall of 2011 when T Clay Wood opened less than 1 mile away.

It took PWCS from 2001 until the fall of 2011 to finally relieve overcrowding at Cedar Point.  Victory, Glenkirk, and T Clay are currently overcapacity.  It won’t be until next fall, in 2015, when the Devlin Rd Elementary school opens, that overcrowding at those schools will hopefully, finally, be relieved.

That’s 14 years.

Marsteller Middle School is where many of the kids who attend these schools go after they complete elementary school.  The new Marsteller opened its doors in 2002, and was overcapacity the day it opened its doors.  So many students registered in the summer that they didn’t have enough desks or chairs on the first day.

In the year before Gainesville Middle School opened its doors in the fall of 2007, Marsteller had over 1700 students enrolled, in a school built for 1200.  Marsteller was still overcapacity after GVMS opened, and remains that way today despite Regan opening in the fall of 2012 and the K-8 opening this fall.  Another middle school, the ‘West End” middle school, will open in the fall of 2018 2019, to relieve overcrowding at Marsteller and Gainesville.

Assuming the “west end” middle school won’t be overcrowded the day it opens its doors, it will have taken PWCS from 2002 to 2018 to relieve overcrowding at the middle school level in the Brentsville / Gainesville area.

That’s 16 years.

The children who attend Marsteller and Gainesville Middle Schools and the K-8 mostly go to Battlefield, Patriot, Brentsville, and Stonewall.   Battlefield opened in the fall of 2004 and was overcapacity shortly thereafter.  Prior to the opening of Patriot High School in the fall of 2011, Brentsville High School had so many “extra” students that they had one way hallways, used the auditorium to provide seating for lunch, and some kids had so many classes in trailers that they never set foot inside the building, except for lunch.  It was overcrowding at Brentsville that opened our eyes to such things as bathroom trailers, which are trailers that have bathrooms in them, because there weren’t enough bathrooms in the building for all the students attending.  Overcrowding at Glenkirk elementary was so bad that they had a bathroom trailer at an elementary school.

Battlefield was about 20% overcapacity last year and will be overcapacity this school year with rising enrollment in subsequent years.  Stonewall will be overcapacity this year with rising enrollment in subsequent years.  Brentsville is projected to go overcapacity next school year with rising enrollment in subsequent years.  And Patriot, Patriot is nearly 800 students overcapacity this year, but it’s enrollment is expected to stabilize next year at between 700 and 800 students overcapacity.

Battlefield opened in the fall of 2004.  The 13th high school is expected to provide relief to the western end high schools when it opens in the fall of 2019, though by many calculations it is already overcapacity.

That’s 15 years.

Children, god willing, get older every year.  The day they’re born, you can predict, almost to the day, when they’ll graduate from high school.  Most children spend 12 years in public K -12 school.  My oldest was born in late 2000.  He’s in 8th grade this year and will graduate before overcrowding is relieved in Brentsville area high schools.  His entire school career will have been spent in schools that are overcrowded to the bursting point.

None of this overcrowding was a surprise. It was known and expected, and available in documents published by PWCS to anyone who cared to look.

For as long as I’ve been watching the BOCS and school board, we parents have been promised that relief would come when the next school opened.  We’ve been told that the county HAD to accept new housing developments because the site for the new school was desperately needed.  What we weren’t told, but figured out by looking at the numbers, was that all the houses that came with the new developments meant the desperately needed new schools would be overcapacity before they even opened their doors (see Ellis, Victory, Glenkirk,  TClay, Gainesville Middle, Reagan Middle, the K-8, and Patriot).  It meant that PWCS kept building schools, but couldn’t keep up with rising student enrollment.

Problems like this don’t happen by accident.  They happen when our elected officials prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the impacts of proposed development and when voters don’t take a stand.

Fifteen years is more than a few elections; elections which presented voters with opportunities to change the way things are done in Prince William County.

The unanswered question is whether we’ll choose to do so.

On October 1 Brentsville District residents will be faced with a choice between two candidates to represent them on the BOCS as Wally Covington has been appointed to the judicial bench.

I support and endorse Jeanine Lawson for Brentsville District Supervisor.

In my opinion, Jeanine gets it.  She has children in school now and has seen the effects of school overcrowding and large class sizes firsthand.  She understands the effects unfettered development have on our already stressed school system.  She’s not anti-development; she recognizes that development will and should happen, but she supports smarter development and appears willing to question and vet staff’s claims.  She understands the financial burden our high property tax rates have on working families.  She attended meetings of the Gainesville / Brentsville District budget committee and assisted in digging into the county and school division’s budgets.

Don’t take my word for it – check out Jeanine’s web site and that of her opponent, Scott Jacobs.  Check out their campaign finance reports on vpap.com and see who is funding their campaigns (Jeanie’s and Scott’s).

Do your research, and then come to the GOP nominating meeting on October 1.  I’ll be there, and I’ll be voting for Jeanine.

Kim Simons

Wherein the Taxpayers of PWC are Shortchanged, again

Swiping and paraphrasing from The Derecho, on StoneHaven. Be sure to read both parts of Derecho’s missive, which are linked below.

Be warned – there are numbers in this posting.

StoneHaven is an 882 acre, 1650 home development proposed in the western end of the county (near Jiffy Lube live). As part of the proposed development, the applicant has proffered 91.2 acres of that 882 acres as a site for a high school – something PWCS desperately needs. By law, counties are entitled to receive proffers; land, cash, roads, or a combination of those, as compensation for the cost of constructing facilities for public services, like schools and fire stations, that new development requires.

At issue is how you value the property and how much value you assign to the land being proffered, because that will determine if the developer has to pay more cash or provide more land to make up the difference.

So here goes…..from Derecho, using his / her numbers.

Current assessed value:
– of the entire 882 acre parcel – $15,943,100
– of the 91.2 acres for the school – $1,648,538

Market Value:
– of the entire 882 acre parcel $166,048,850
– of the 91.2 acres for the school $17,169,677

Based on proffer guidelines, Stonehaven would need to proffer the following for schools in either land or cash or a combination of both:
– 2006 guidelines $21,710,125
– 2014 guidelines $31,661,225

Stonehaven’s proposed value of the proffered 91.2 acres
– $24,250,000

At $24.25 million, the proposed valuation of the land:
– is $7 million greater than the market value of adjoining properties; and,
– is $7 million less than the 2014 proffer requirements.

Meaning that if the $24.25 million proposed valuation is accepted, then the applicant would be able to avoid paying about $14 million in proffers (the difference between the market value of the land and the 2014 proffer level).

Part 1

Part 2

DOJ Delays Boundary Plans for 12th High School

The rescheduled vote on the boundaries for the 12th high school, that was set for Sept 17, 2014, has been postponed.  PWCS had originally proposed boundary plans and was set to vote in the spring, but the DOJ intervened and asked them to delay the vote until they could conduct an examination of the process that was followed.  According to a PWCS release, the postponement is because of concerns expressed by the DOJ about the demographic makeup of the 12th high school under the proposed boundaries.

I am currently working to obtain a copy of the DOJ comments.

The release from PWCS reads as follows:

“September 10, 2014

A decision on proposed boundaries for Prince William County’s 12th high school will be delayed.

The scheduled vote on the issue has been pulled from the September 17th School Board agenda following receipt of comments from the Federal Department of Justice (DOJ). That agency has been looking into concerns about whether the proposed boundaries would result in a school population that differs substantially from the county’s demographic make-up.

Division staff will talk with DOJ officials before attempting to craft a revised boundary plan that addresses the agency’s demographic concerns, along with community input, educational, and economic considerations. No timetable or planning process has been determined. Any revised staff boundary proposal will require School Board review and approval.”

Intentionally Misleading, or Poor Choice of Words?

My children have been reading The Giver this summer, and the focus on precision of language got me thinking this morning.  So often, it seems these days, we read or learn about programs or products whose reality differs greatly from what was described.  It’s the supplements that claim to help you control your appetite, that in reality do absolutely nothing.  

The College Board is the entity that governs Advanced Placement, or AP, courses.  It articulates the standards those courses must meet, provides or endorses training to certify teachers for AP courses, and administers and grades the AP exams.  Students who take a certain number of exams and achieve scores of a certain level are eligible for awards from the College Board.  These awards are called AP Scholar Awards, and they are an internationally recognized award of achievement that students can attain.    

What does this have to do with precision of language, or lack thereof?  

It’s because of the AP Scholars program that PWCS offers.  

The AP Scholars program is available to PWCS High School students taking at least 2 Pre-AP or AP courses in the current school year who plan to complete at least 6 AP courses before graduation.  Students participating in the program must maintain a C average in all classes, must complete community service hours each year, and must complete a research paper.    In exchange for doing all of that, students participating in the program are supposed to receive peer tutoring, instructional support from the school counseling department, free on-line SAT prep and practice AP exams, and special recognition at graduation.  

The AP Scholars program, offered by PWCS, is in no way, shape, or form affiliated with or endorsed by the College Board, the organization that administers the AP exams and awards the AP Scholar awards.  Students who complete the AP Scholars program in a PWCS school aren’t AP Scholars unless they take the required number of courses and achieve the scores required for an AP Scholar award.  In fact, students who don’t participate in the AP Scholars program can achieve the AP Scholar distinction, if they take enough AP classes and achieve the necessary scores to receive the award.  

See how that might be confusing?

This shouldn’t be construed as criticism of the AP Scholars program, as it sounds like an interesting program,  though some parents have indicated to me that the promised benefits of additional instructional support and peer tutoring have not been delivered.  My criticism isn’t with the AP Scholars program, but rather with the name.

No Colleges and Universities are aware of the AP Scholars program that PWCS offers, but they are aware of the AP Scholar distinctions the College Board awards.  Students who complete the AP Scholars program in a PWCS high school aren’t AP Scholars; they are only AP Scholars if they earn that distinction and are awarded it by the College Board.    

I’m quite certain PWCS officials were ware of the AP Scholar awards when they designed the AP Scholars program here, so why they would have chosen to give the program the same name as the award, is beyond me.  It’s confusing, implies that some level of support or endorsement has been received from the College Board, and ought to be changed.  

Back to School 2014 – 2015 School Year!

Welcome back for the 2014 – 2015 school year!  I hope everyone had a fun and relaxing summer.  

The Va Dept of Ed released SOL and end of year exam scores yesterday, August 28, 2014.  That is one of the latest release dates I recall.  

History has taught me that the greatest indicator of student academic success is their parent’s financial stability.  For more decades than I care to count, it had been observed that students from economically disadvantaged families tend to underperform relative to their peers from financially stable families.  Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent, the “achievement gap” has remained steadfast and consistent for as long as test score data has been complied.  

PWCS has one of the highest percentages of economically disadvantaged students in northern Virginia.  I believe only Arlington, Alexandria, Manassas, and Masassas Park have a greater percentage.  I mention that because in years past PWCS has cited demographics as the reason our student test scores lag those achieved in neighboring counties.  PWCS does have a point, our school division’s demographic balance does affect our overall scores, however, demographics aren’t the only reason. 

For the last couple of years I’ve been compiling test score reports for economically disadvantaged and not economically disadvantaged students, and comparing those scores.  PWCS student scores are consistently in the bottom 1/3 of northern Virginia counties in every subject tested at the high school level, except Reading and US & Virginia History.  This is for both economically disadvantaged and not economically disadvantaged students, so, while the demographic balance of our students does account for SOME of the deficit, it doesn’t account for all of it.  

Below is a link to the report on high school scores (High School SOLs – 2010 to 2014).  I’ll be cobbling together test score reports as I find time and posting them on the Test Scores Page.  Until then, enjoy, and welcome back to school!

PWCS, You’re Welcome

As a member of the Gainesville / Brentsville district budget advisory committee, I, and my fellow committee members, spent an inordinate amount of time over the past 2 years examining PWCS’ budget. Our analysis showed that there were significant savings that could be found in the PWCS budget.  We even took the time to document those savings and shared them here and with anyone who cared to listen.

This year Gil Trenum and Alyson Satterwhite, with the support of Lisa Bell, proposed several adjustments to the PWCS budget that would have provided for additional reductions in class sizes.  Their suggestions fell flat.  The adjustments proposed were characterized as draconian and concern was expressed that they could undermine the school division’s financial stability.  We budget committee members were just too naive and ill informed to understand the complexity involved in the PWCS budget.

I fully expect to receive a Thank you Note from PWCS in the next few days.

Those of you who watched the last school board meeting of the year last night (June 18) noticed that the school division was able to adjust the 2014 – 2015 budget to absorb $6.9 million less than expected from the state and county, combined, without making any cuts.  The adjustments they made, increasing Other Revenues, reducing the planned fluff in teacher salaries, and reducing budgeted utility costs to better reflect actuals, were all changes the budget advisory committee had recommended.  You know, the adjustments that were characterized as draconian and potentially undermining to the school division’s financial stability.  You know, the ones were simpletons were too ill informed to understand.

You’re welcome, PWCS.  I like chocolate covered strawberries and sunflowers, in case you were wondering.


Summer Holiday

As I have in the past, I will be taking time off from blogging during the summer, which starts tomorrow!!!!!  There is a school board meeting tonight and I may talk about that as the budget adjustments will be proposed.  I may also post if something pops up and I’m aware of it.  Otherwise, I will be on vacation.  My plans are to climb Bull Run Mountain, tube on the Shenandoah River, hike to a waterfall on Skyline drive, climb Little Round Top, ride a roller coaster, ride a horse (that isn’t attached to a Merry-g0-round), swim in a lake, swim in the ocean, swim in the Chesapeake Bay, bake a cake from scratch, sleep in a tent, dig for dinosaur bones at Westmoreland State Park, look at the moon and starts through a telescope, go ice skating, and sleep in.  Between bug bites, poison ivy, sunburn, motion sickness, and making sure 911 is on speed dial for when I get lost, there won’t be time to blog.

Have a great summer!


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