The School Board spent about an hour of their meeting on Tuesday discussing the three elementary redistricting options in front of them. Considering the relative number of students to be moved was so small, there was on awful lot of debate leading up to the SB's ultimate decision to move The Manor at England Run neighborhood from MBES to FES. Some interesting issues emerged, some that most may not realize, that will definitely be major players when the large scale elementary redistricting comes our way next year. Here are the highlights of the discussion:
George Washington Rep McOsker began discussion by reiterating many of the reasons he has already made clear. He was the one who initially brought up the issue of moving the England Run Pointe neighborhood over 18 months ago due to a variety of issues, namely long bus rides and lack of space at FFES. According to him, it was the community and the school that brought these issues to him but he never specifically targeted Falmouth for the move. He indicated that this was a neighborhood that was initially intended to go to Falmouth but did not due to the refurbishing of the school at the time. It is important to note, however, that according to Falmouth Rep Mr. Hirons there is no written evidence via board minutes or notes from the time to support that statement. Mr. McOsker's major concern was the bus arrival time for these students at 8:58 in the morning. Many of these children are eligible for free and reduced lunch and go straight from the bus to breakfast and miss valuable instruction time on a daily basis. It was also important to note that FFES is one of only 2 remaining elementary schools that have not yet gotten a refurbishment and that the older design of the school is causing some real crowding issues.
One particularly salient point made by Mr. McOsker at the meeting was also made by BTW in a previous post. He, and we, pointed out that Rockhill Elementary is at a staggeringly low mid 60's for capacity percentage and is only 2 miles from MBES, why not move kids from over-crowded MBES to Rockhill? Chairwoman Hazard had a rather heated response to the suggestion, stating that if other schools were to be considered, they should have been brought up well before during the weeks of discussion preceding the vote. True statement, but one wonders why the people whose job it is to make these decisions didn't think to discuss such an obvious solution to overcrowding at MBES in the first place.
The Falmouth Elementary community raised a lot of concerns in the weeks leading up to the vote, mainly that too many students would be transferred into the school and what that would do to their programs. According to Mr. Hirons, most FES parents understand some students need to be moved but that he wanted to "make sure the best resolution for FES is what occurs.” Fortunately, it was clarified that music room will NOT be moved next to the library, regardless of the vote results. Mr. Hirons major concern has focused on the roads to MBES from the Plantation Road neighborhood. While he stated that he wished FES had availability to take all students attending MBES because those roads are so dangerous, he also stated that "FES can not absorb 110 or 117 students, so if we move any students, only one (neighborhood) can go."
Mr. Hirons was one of a few on the SB who mentioned at the meeting that he would be willing to entertain an option to look at the issue next year when the much broader county-as-a-whole elementary redistricting takes place. Griffiths-Widewater Rep Jamie Decatur and Garrisonville Rep Chris Connely also expressed a willingness to delay a decision until next year. This idea makes a lot of sense to BTW but Chairwoman Hazard was absolutely adamant that students needed to be moved out of MBES immediately. Her concern stems from the booming by-right housing developments that are sending more students than anticipated in the SCPS projections to MBES. She said "we can’t put off a school that needs relief. Based on the numbers today, I don’t see how as a board can not give them relief."
BTW was encouraged to hear that some SB members took advantage of the offer to tour Falmouth Elementary to see exactly what the conditions are and how space is being utilized. Ms. Decatur and Mr. Connelly both visited the school and clearly the visit influenced their votes. Mr. Connelly said that he found "it hard to move any children" based on what he saw and Ms. Decatur stated that she didn't feel they could "move that school so much closer to 90% in the way that they are using it."
One huge issue that many parents may not be aware of are the mandated Pre-School programs that are slowly gobbling up all available space at our elementary schools. Chairwoman Hazard has given BTW some data to review and get out to readers, look for a post regarding this extremely important issue and how it will affect the large elementary redistricting that will happen next year. This was one factor that caused so much concern for the SB, they have 2 Pre-school classrooms that were just moved to Falmouth in February. Likely one of these classrooms will have to move again now that this redistricting is official, which seems like a bit of bad planning on the part of the SB. As Mr. Hirons pointed out, these Pre-K numbers are not reflected in the projections, which means the projections on the "stop-light chart"may not be as accurate as they are purported to be. It is absolutely imperative that these special programs, like mandated special needs and Pre-K programs are somehow included in capacity projections before the next redistricting.
One final note for those who may be affected by this move, Mr. Hirons motioned to allow rising 5th grade students to attend currently attending school with own transportation. The measure was not passed, however, due to concerns that MBES got such little relief. The issue will be discussed again when more data regarding how this would affect capacity can be presented to the board.