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Break The Wheel's message to the School Board

Over the past 5 weeks, I have gotten intimately acquainted with the in's and out's of the current Forge redistricting process. I have digested maps, spreadsheets, government documents; I have attended meetings, written articles and emails, talked to parents and representatives. While certainly not an expert, I think I can make a measured suggestion to the SB.

As an outsider whose kids are not affected, I don't want to take valuable time away from parents who would like to speak at the meeting tonight. It is their last opportunity to do so before the vote next week. But I also think it would be hypocritical of me to ask all of you to reach out to your SB and BoS reps to share your thoughts and then not do so myself. Below is the message I plan on emailing to all SB reps, without the requisite introductions listed above.

School Board Representatives,

I do not feel it is appropriate for me to comment on which neighborhoods should stay at Forge and which should go. That is your job, unpleasant though it may be. I couldn’t possibly understand the pressures you are under nor the input you have received that might influence your decision. However, I do feel I have some valuable insight that I have gathered in my role as the BTW blog curator and impartial observer whose family is not affected, that others may not.

In speaking with parents, many feel that this redistricting issue has been rushed. While it’s true that this issue has been on your collective plates since last November, the public at large certainly was not aware and many feel that it came out of nowhere. Shockingly, communication about the process has been so bad that the Augustine North community did not have a meeting regarding the issue until last Sunday, March 19th. When you couple this with the fact that many children have already selected special programs and courses based on their currently districted school, you get a community responding to the process based on fear and panic.

The whole reason that I began the BTW blog is because, as a 14 year Stafford resident, I have seen far too many of these emergency redistricting initiatives. It has become the routine way to deal with school over-crowding and it simply doesn’t get the job done. While I respect the idea of moving the fewest number of students in principle, in practice it only manages to upset a lot of people in the short term and kick the can of the real problem down the road. A real, comprehensive, unbiased redistricting is in Stafford’s future and I am skeptical that it can wait until the as now mythical High School #6 is built.

At the Augustine meeting on Sunday, Ms. Healy stated that she would not support any option that moved Augustine, Amyclae or Berkshire. If this is the case, this means that she could only support options 2/5 (which are the same, as I am sure you realize) and option 7. In my opinion, these options not only do little to relieve the over-crowding at CFHS in the short term (especially when you add the option to include siblings), they threaten not to address the issue in the long term.

Looking at Option 2/5 and using the numbers from the “Stop-Light” chart, the SB estimates 2206 students to enroll at CFHS next year if we do nothing. That is over capacity for a school that can only accommodate 2175 students and reflects a 101% capacity level. That sounds bad but is only 31 actual students too many, a number that seems manageable in the short term. For the 2017-18 school year, options 2/5 move a paltry 62 students, some of whom will be eligible to stay if the sibling agenda item proposed by Chairwoman Hazard and Mr. Connelly is approved. By removing those 62 students, Forge will be looking at a 98.5% capacity rate, although if you have even 15 siblings who can stay under the proposed sibling option, the capacity number shoots to 99%. Are we seriously creating all of this commotion to move 62 kids for next year, likely significantly less including younger siblings, when doing nothing only leaves Forge with 31 extra students?

Due to the reliance on moving the “future students” of Embrey Mill North to NSHS, you are playing a dangerous game by assuming you know what kinds of students will move into that community. Further, by removing the imaginary 215 Embrey Mill North kids from your projections for year 2020-21, you get 2212 students, still over capacity. By my estimation and considering how quickly Stafford is exploding with growth in the Forge district, moving the few, low or no growth neighborhoods to MVHS in Options 2/5 or 7 and the imaginary Embrey Mill North kids seems unlikely to fix the problem at Forge until HS6 is built. At best, they create a minor, short term release for a few years.

I would like to make one request as you arrive at your final decision. Those of you who represent affected districts have a responsibility to those districts, to stand up for them and serve them well. To the rest of you, Mr. Hirons, Ms. Decatur, Ms. Egan and Mr. McOskar, I ask that you do not vote for any option that you do not confidently believe will solve the Forge problem until High School 6 is built. If no such option exists, please consider tabling this issue for further study and bring it back to the SB for consideration for SY 2018-19. Please do not fall into the sunken cost fallacy that simply because time and work have been invested, that means a decision needs to be made immediately. There is no reason that these communities should have to go through another painful redistricting in 3-4 years time because this board did not do their due diligence. Your community is relying on you to steer this ship away from the iceberg, not directly into it.