$100 Million to Address Perceptions of Inequity?

Last night the school board held an work session on the CIP to address school construction / renovation projects planned for the next 10 – 12 years.  The meeting was called by Gil Trenum, the representative from Brentsville District.  Mr Trenum, who more than earned his pay last night, stated that with increasingly tight budgets, any construction project not already begun was in jeopardy and that the school division needed to define it’s priorities for the next 10 years to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent to meet the greatest need.

Of particular concern to Mr Trenum was continued overcrowding in schools in his district.  Patriot High School, which only opened a year ago, is already overcapacity and is projected to be more than 900 students overcapacity in 2016 with students who already live in PWC and already attend schools in PWC.  Battlefield High School, located in Gainesville District, is also overcapacity and is projected to be more than 450 students overcapacity in 2016 with students who already live in PWC and already attend schools in PWC.

Mr Trenum’s concerns were met with what can only be described as disdain by several other school board members.  I would write the exact words they used, but they so sickened me that I can’t.  These school board members more or less stated that spending $100 million to build a school where there isn’t sufficient enrollment is perfectly acceptable because all the new construction has been going on in the west end and that’s creating a perception of inequity.  As for attending a school with more than 1000 excess students, well there are always trailers.

Rather than play into the equity game and start yet another east / west battle, let’s look at enrollment and see if we can justify building the 12th high school in mid-county in 2016 based on student enrollment.

To fully discuss projected enrollment we have to look at two numbers – the number of students who live in a school’s boundaries and the number who attend the school.  PWCS allows students to transfer to and attend specialty programs at any school in the division, and every high school in the division hosts a specialty program.  Transfers play a big role in shifting enrollment in our high schools.  They also cost us a tremendous amount of money in transportation costs as county taxpayers are expected to provide transportation to kids transferring from their base school to another school.  These transfers are not mandated by the state or federal government, they’re something PWCS allows.  So any discussion of enrollment must include a conversation about in area enrollment versus actual enrollment, which includes transfers.

We also have to talk about the addition at Potomac.  In the Fall of 2013 Potomac High School will open an addition that will add 630 high school seats to the school.  With the new addition, Potomac is projected to be 670 students below capacity.  Students to fill that school will have to come from somewhere.  Potomac is bordered by Forest Park, Gar-Field, and Freedom, with Hylton just up the road.  In the Fall of 2013, enrollment for those schools is projected to be as follows (in area / in area plus transfers)

  • Forest Park – 101 under / 338 over
  • Garfield – 30 under / 284 under
  • Freedom – 304 over / 169 under
  • Hylton – 99 under / 339 over
  • Potomac – 116 over / 670 under
  • Total – 190 over / 446 under

If you redraw the boundaries for those schools and move students around, all of these schools are projected to be at or below capacity through 2016, and in 2016 the school division plans on opening a school at the border of OP, Hylton, and Brentsville, with Forest Park just down the road.

Here is the projected enrollment for those schools in the Fall of 2016 (in area / in area plus transfers):

  • Hylton – 253 under (88%) / 594 over (129%)
  • Brentsville – 109 under (90%) / 19 over (102%)
  • Osbourn Park – 17 under (99%) / 635 over (126%)
  • Forest Park – 257 under (88%) / 201 over (110%)
  • Total – 636 under / 1449 over

Because we don’t know what boundaries will be drawn when the addition opens at Potomac, those numbers assume no students are moved from Forest Park or Hylton to Potomac in 2013.  Based on that assumption, enrollment at all of those schools combined in the Fall of 2016 will be 636 below capacity for in area students and 1,449 above capacity for in area plus transfers ; a difference of  2,085 students.

I don’t think it’s safe to assume no students will be moved from Forest Park or Hylton to fill Potomac after the addition opens.  We can’t have a high school that’s more than 20% below capacity right next to 2 high schools that are over capacity.  So someone will have to be moved.  With transfers, they may transfer right back, but we will have to re-draw the boundaries for Potomac, and Forest Park and Hylton are the only viable areas to look to for students.  And yes, that means we will be moving kids who live in a school’s base area to another school that might be further away because of transfers from outside the area.

As an aside, with transportation costs of roughly $638 per student per year, moving those 2,085 students from their base school to another school costs county taxpayers roughly $1,330,230 a year.  More as some of those students would walk to their base school and are bussed to a different school.  If PWCS is really serious about being fiscally responsible and reducing class sizes, the school division may need to consider ending transfers.  That won’t be popular as many parents use transfers to escape schools they consider undesirable.

Enrollment at Battlefield, Patriot, and Stonewall in the Fall of 2016 is projected to be as follows (in area / in area plus transfers):

  • Battlefield – 455 over / 588 over
  • Patriot – 921 over / 914 over
  • Stonewall – 444 over / 23 over
  • Total – 1820 over / 1525 over

As of right now, the plan is to spend upwards of $100 million to build a school where in area enrollment for nearby schools is 287 students below capacity and do nothing for the area with schools that have over 1800 excess students.

Based on in area enrollment you can not justify building the 12th high school off of Hoadly Road.  You just can’t.

From what I heard last night, the 12th high school will be build off of Hoadly Road whether we need it or not.  Certain school board members appear to prefer that county taxpayers provide $100 million to build a school in an area without sufficient enrollment because they think that would ensure equity.  Payback was the word used by one school board member.

Lets see what payback gives us.

Say the school division goes ahead with building the 12th high school off of Hoadly Road.  All of the schools to the South of the 12th high school will be at or below capacity.  OP will be above capacity, based on transfers; it will be below capacity based on in area enrollment.  Patriot will be almost 1000 students over capacity based on in area enrollment; transfers are closed at Patriot.  Battlefield will be almost 500 students over capacity based on in area enrollment.

You need 2000 students to fill a school.  To get that 2000 you’re going to need to tap Patriot and Battlefield.  Patriot is on the other side of Brentsville near the intersection of Route 28 and 234.  Battlefield is out west off of Route 15.  Because of how far they are from the 12th high school, tapping Patriot and Battlefield to fill the 12th high school means you’ll have to move large portions of OP and Brentsville to the 12th high school, which will deplete OP and Brentsville’s populations. You’ll have to move large portions of Stonewall to OP to fill it, which will deplete Stonewall’s population, and you’ll have to move large portions of Patriot to Brentsville to fill it.   Finally, you’ll have to move large portions of Battlefield to Stonewall to fill it.  Because of the size and density of housing in Patriot and Stonewall’s areas and the location of housing in Brentsville, this means we may have to consider busing kids who can walk to Patriot, Stonewall, and Brentsville to different schools.

Alternately, we could choose a site for the 13th high school and draw a boundary for it.  Then, when the 12th high school opens in mid-county in 2016, we could bus all those kids we expect to go to the 13th high school to the 12th high school.  Once the 13th high school opens, we could flip them back.  Sure it would cost a small fortune in transportation costs, but it would ensure that the 12th high school gets built in mid-county, would only require one boundary change, and would reduce overcrowding at Patriot and Battlefield.

Better yet, we could delay the 12th high school a few years and move the 13th high school up a few years – essentially flipping their delivery dates. That’s what makes the most logical sense based on actual student enrollment.

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