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Elementary School Redistricting: Which option makes the most sense?

Those of you who initially signed onto the BTW website or FB page, likely did so to get info about the Forge redistricting. Some of you may not realize that there was a concurrent initiative in front of the School Board regarding a few of the elementary schools in the county. We here at BTW haven't devoted much time to it because, well, there are only so many hours in a day. But since the SB discussed the various options at their meeting this week and will vote in two weeks, now seemed like a good time to broach the topic.

This redistricting is a little different than others in that it should have happened ages ago. Way back in 2010, the School Board made a unique decision to deal with multiple elementary school renovations. Due to the low population of students at Stafford Middle, the SB voted to utilize the space there to relocate elementary school students during each of 5 planned renovations to area schools. In 2011-12, Falmouth Elementary students attended school at Stafford Middle during the renovation of their school, followed in succeeding years by Stafford Elementary and Grafton Village Students. At that point, the plans to renovate Moncure and Ferry Farm were tabled. As of this writing, the new Moncure is set to open its doors at a new location by January 2019, while the Ferry Farm renovation plans are still on hold.

In 2011, the SB also approved a redistricting plan to relieve over-crowding at Rocky Run and Hartwood Elementary schools in the southern part of the county. England Run students were moved to Margaret Brent and Ferry Farm Elementary schools. These moves might not seem very logical when you look at the attendance map however at the time, the SB didn't want to move children into a closer school with space that was being renovated. Those children would be forced to move twice, and to a middle school no less, and that was just too much upheaval for any one family to bear. This means Falmouth Elementary escaped the addition of any new students and has stayed at relatively low attendance numbers since. It currently rests at 71% capacity.

All of this created the rather bizarre looking attendance map we have today:

The image above is taken from the Elementary School Attendance map for this year. This portion of the map is an unmitigated mess, with zones twisting all around each other; it has two little, blue islands and one yellow island in the middle. However, now that the renovations are done and any formerly redistricted students are in middle school, the School Board could address this wonkiness.

BTW had a little trouble in determining why exactly this redistricting came up now and at these particular schools. Let's look at the "stop-light" table for the elementary schools generated by SCPS, similar to the one we saw for the high schools during the Forge redistricting.

As you can see, this data does not show any real pressing need for MBES or FFES to be relieved, neither is over crowded. However, according to Assistant Superintendent Scott Horan during the Elementary School Redistricting Public Hearing on March 16th, MBES has seen an increase of their student population this year with current attendance numbers at 925, a capacity percentage of 97%. That is not reflected on the stop-light chart or the capacity percentages generated by SCPS. Of course, Moncure is well over capacity and Winding Creek is about to explode. According to Rep. Scott Hirons, that school's issues will be addressed when the redistricting for the new Moncure happens.

To find out more, I was fortunate to have a sit down at Starbucks with George Washington SB Rep. DeWayne McOsker, Jr. We talked about a lot, look for an upcoming post devoted exclusively to the interview. But according to Mr. McOsker, it was he who initially broached the subject of a small redistricting change back in October. His goal, a long time one of his, was to move the neighborhood of England Run Pointe from FFES to FES. His reasons for this proposed move are many but simple proximity seems like a great place to start. Also, remember, Ferry Farm is the one school mentioned above that did NOT get a renovation. The school was built in 1957, it is not a modern design like many other schools in the county. Mr. McOsker said that besides the fact that these students have very long bus rides and strange feeder patterns, some small-sized classrooms have been moved to the basement to former storage closets due to design issues in the school. According to him, there are special needs classes being held in windowless basement closets, not good. From a pure numbers perspective, however, next year FFES will be at 88% capacity, so not an emergency situation per se.

Here is a map I created to show what specific areas we are talking about a little more clearly:

All three of these neighborhoods are in the wacky zone and should be moved. These maps can be deceptive so let's try to remember just how huge Stafford County is. All of these children have ridiculous bus rides, sometimes causing them to arrive late to school. All have schools with open seats much closer to them. Also, keep in mind, these neighborhoods were initially moved to the schools where they are currently zoned because of the renovation plans mentioned above.

The SB are considering 4 options. All maps and data were pulled from the SCPS website. While there are accompanying spreadsheets that show capacity data for all options, I didn't include them here but you can access them by clicking the SCPS link.

Option 1:

Due to the increase in students enrolled at MBES since October and Chairwoman Hazard's concerns about more by-right development ( i.e. development that does not need to be approved by the BoS) in the MBES zone, the SB came up with Option 1. In this option, no students move out of FFES, 110 students move to FES leaving it at 87% of capacity.

Option 2:

This option is a bit of a compromise, pulling some students out of MBES and some out of FFES, sending 117 to FES, 88% capacity.

Option 3:

This option only removes the more southern little blue island. This is the option that Falmouth SB Rep Scott Hirons has stated he is currently leaning towards in a 4/12 Facebook post. By sending these 65 students to Falmouth from MBES, Falmouth will have 81% capacity.

Option 4:

In the final option, only England Run Pointe is moved to FES, leaving it with a 79.9% capacity.

One major consideration that some may not know is that Falmouth Elementary is a Title 1 school. This means that due to the school's large population of low income families, it gets extra money from the federal government. Any of these moves will likely increase it's percentage of low income families to the school. During the elementary public hearing, some commented that moving any more than 65 students to Falmouth would be a "disservice" to the school, due to its Title 1 status and special needs classrooms. Many also said that the SB shouldn't consider bus transportation distances since many families deal with that all over the county. All of the Falmouth parents supported Option 3, which is likely why their SB rep is doing the same.

My children were at MBES when the two little blue islands were created, I remember the whole process well. Our community was in a position to take the kids, we had the space and we were happy to welcome new MBES Bobcats. However, I think that the move should have been a temporary one. The SB should have been required to re-exam these redistricted areas once the affected students matriculated to middle school due to the weird circumstances that placed them at MBES to begin with. If it hadn't been for the renovations, those kids would have headed to a school closer to home, likely FES. Coulda, woulda, shoulda... the past is the past, what is best for our students now?

Personally, and you know I love you Bobcats, I think MBES can hang on just fine until the large scale elementary school redistricting headed to the northern part of the county, which will happen in advance of the new Moncure opening in January 2019. Dr. Benson stated at the recent Parent Adivsory Committee meeting that likely the whole 610 corridor would be affected during that redistricting effort. Moncure is waiting, Winding Creek is waiting, Margaret Brent isn't over capacity yet and can wait, too.

It may seem like I am contradicting myself but I do think we should move all of these areas, just not yet. This is the closest thing that we are going to get to a county wide redistricting adjustment, something many parents expressed a strong desire for during the Forge redistricting. It doesn't seem to make sense to move these kids now when we could look at the bigger picture a year and half down the line.

As for Mr. McOsker's desire to move England Run Pointe, it should come down to when that school will be refurbished, which right now is completely up in the air. While it has been in consideration for a long time, with the new restructuring of the Capital Investment Plan between the BoS and the SB, it is impossible to know when it might actually happen. One thing that is not impossible to know is that books belong in a school basement, not kids. I am inclined to agree with Mr. McOsker and endorse Option 4 but maybe that is because we had such a great meeting. I would love to meet with Scott Hirons or Holly Hazard at Starbucks and discuss why I am wrong. I'm buying...