Update on 27 November Western Albemarle School Redistricting Committee Meeting

Once again, tremendous thanks to Kelly Gobble for the time, information and posting. Make no mistake; school redistricting matters. Two thoughts before her post:

1 – It would be enormously helpful if live-streaming or live-tweeting of these meetings was possible. @haminga did a great job last night of tweeting about the meeting, and there was great engagement and questions from those who were following her on Twitter.

2 – Is it feasible for all of Old Trail to attend Brownsville in perpetuity? (in my opinion, this is doubtful)

On to Kelly’s post:

Thanks to RealCrozetVA for posting my summary of last night’s redistricting meeting. It’s a long update, and it posted in 3 parts. Please, though, take a few minutes to read all 3, as there are many more issues than just the MLS redistricting.

The first half of the meeting was largely focused on long-term issues of growth throughout the Western Feeder Pattern, with special focus on the anticipated (and possibly explosive) growth at Brownsville, the breadth and depth of the approved (though not funded) expansion to Crozet Elementary, as well as the anticipated capacity issues at Henley and WAHS.

First, on the elementary school piece. If enrollment projections hold true, Brownsville will exceed its calculated capacity in 2-3 years. Crozet will be on a similar timetable. The proposed expansion, as it now stands, would add 130 seats to that school, at a cost of approximately $5-$6 million. The expansion is currently slated (again, pending funding from the BOS) for completion in June, 2016.

While there is fairly unanimous support for the *concept* of the expansion, the committee raised concerns about whether the current project would, in fact, provide enough additional school space to keep pace with residential growth in Crozet. There were 2 larger expansion plans rendered, that would increase the capacity of the school to 513 and 608 students, respectively, and the committee discussed the possibility of the long-term planners revisiting these plans. Costs would likely rise with any expansion of this project.

An expansion of Crozet elementary would provide additional space that is largely seen as a “relief valve” for when Brownsville school reaches capacity. As such, several Crozet neighborhoods were briefly discussed as candidates for potential redistricting. Although no decision will be made by the committee on this point, the committee is asked to analyze the “feasibility” of each of these options.

The proposed neighborhoods are:

Western Ridge/Wickham Pond/Foothill Crossing (125 students)
“Upper” Old Trail (the residential area beyond the town center/park area) (117 students)
Grayrock/Wayland’s Grant/Bargamin Park (124 students)
Crozet Ave. South (15 students)

That’s a total of 381 students, at both elementary and secondary levels.

 

It’s important to note that, according to current Capital Improvement Program priorities, an expansion to Agnor Hurt School is currently ahead of any expansion of any school in the Western Feeder Pattern.

Following is a recap of the discussion of growth at area secondary schools.

Based on current enrollment projections, Henley Middle and Western High School will eventually experience capacity issues as these elementary students move through the system. Due to some “natural” attrition to private schools, however, these schools are not anticipated to reach capacity for another 5-6 years (WAHS, 2017/Henley,2018). But the committee has been asked to begin the discussion of how these longer-term space needs will be met. Again, no formal decisions will be made, but recommendations could be included to help shape future committees’ work.

Basically, the County has identified 3 main ways to deal with secondary school growth:

1. Construction of a new high school in the northern part of the County. The idea is that a new school would relieve pressure on Albemarle HS, which could provide a sort of ‘domino effect’ that would allow shifting of students among all the area high schools. Obviously, this is a huge expenditure project, and would likely require redistricting/movement of students county-wide.

2. Expanding WAHS. Currently, WAHS is on the 10 year CIP to receive an expansion in 2019. There are no concrete plans for how many seats this would add, or the costs associated. In reality, however, any projects beyond the 5 year timeframe in the CIP cannot really be viewed as “approved” or even necessarily likely to happen.

3. Using existing seats at schools in other feeder patterns to alleviate growth issues. This means a redistricting of certain parts of one feeder patterns (elementary and secondary) into another pattern. In that vein, several potential options were presented to the committee for “feasibility analysis”. All of these options involve moving students out of the Western Feeder Pattern and into the Southern Feeder Pattern (Red Hill Elem, Walton/Burley MS, and Monticello HS). The options shared were:

1. 63 students from Plank Rd/Craigs Store area to Southern Feeder Pattern.
2. 83 students from the Murray district, including Dick Woods Rd., south of I64,that includes The Rocks and Rosemont areas, and/or the 29 Bypass area that includes Buckingham Circle and Nob Hill Circle.

If all of these options were adopted simultaneously, 199 students would be moved from the Western to the Southern feeder pattern.

One important caveat in this discussion is that Red Hill elementary must be significantly modernized and expanded in order to make such a shift possible.

Currently, Red Hill is approved (but not funded) to receive a thorough modernization and removal of trailers in 2016-2018, at a cost of approximately $5million. This project would increase Red Hill’s capacity to from 160 to 198 students, and would add 2 classrooms. Also important to know is that this project is not so much related to capacity growth issues as it is to creating a sense of physical plant parity. Red Hill is a severely outdated school in need of modernization regardless of larger county planning.

However, given the growth needs at the secondary levels in the western pattern, a natural outgrowth of option 3, above, may be to significantly expand Red Hill elementary to make it a viable candidate to receive students out of the western feeder pattern. Clearly, this would increase the funding needed, and would likely make the Crozet expansion unlikely. Basically, 2 elementary schools would not simultaneously receive significant, costly expansions.

Again, the committee will not be making any *final* decisions about these issues, but will make recommendations to begin the discussion of the long-term growth issues.

Discussion of the Meriwether redistricting proposals:

This is the summary of the second half of last night’s meeting, which focused on the analysis and discussion of the options to redistrict students from Meriwether Lewis School to Murray or Crozet.

The committee began with a discussion of whether the stated goals of a MLS redistricting
have been adequately and convincingly articulated throughout the process, and whether the benefits of a redistricting outweigh the costs of doing so. The committee used a “graphic organizer” and broke into smaller groups to list out the advantages and disadvantages (for schools, students, parents, and the larger community) for each of the 5 options:

1. “Holding Pattern” option: to move no students and allow a waiting period to assess modified use of space at MLS and future growth projections.
2. West Leigh to Murray (28 students)
3. Owensville/Kimbrough to Murray (21)
4. Glenaire to Murray (8)
5. Brown’s Gap to Crozet (19)

Prevailing sentiment seemed to settle around the issue of whether redistricting would accomplish any clearly defined goals for the MLS community, outside of simply reducing the capacity-enrollment difference. Most especially is the issue of whether moving students will accomplish a school-board stated goal of removal of trailers. Also noted were concerns over staffing and class size changes that may occur at MLS. A number of committee members stated that they were not convinced of the demonstrable benefits redistricting would accomplish.

Finally, some committee members expressed concerns that a redistricting of MLS would effectively limit “flexibility” throughout the feeder pattern, as it would reduce the number of available seats at Murray or Crozet elementary. These seats are seen as potentially necessary to help deal with growth at Brownsville school.

NO votes were taken on any of these options, pending input from the community at the Dec. 11 Public Comment session. The committee hopes to hear from many of our friends and neighbors, as we work together to sort through the challenges and opportunities that are part of living in a growth area.

 

As always, the Western Albemarle Redistricting facebook page is quite active. Hopefully their blog will launch soon so that I can link to it; fb is notoriously bad for archiving conversations and information.

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16 Replies to “Update on 27 November Western Albemarle School Redistricting Committee Meeting”

  1. Ah, one thing I omitted….if the feeder pattern is shifted such that current Murray students are moved out, then Murray would be seen as another space option to help deal with potential capacity issues at Brownsville. In short, quite a few dominos are part of this discussion! Thanks, Kelly

  2. was there any mention of a possible referendum to raise taxes in crozet to build a new school? many communities that lack the funding from local govt do this, and people support it because they see the need.

    1. The BOS could create a special taxation district. After the Library/Municipal building expense which the whole county had to suffer
      the raised tax rate it is only fair to have the people really choose between what they want to pay for and what they really need.
      I did not believe people will vote to increase taxes. They will keep asking
      for other people to pay for what they want…

  3. Instead of raising taxes – why not make developers help pay for infrastructure? They have no cost to build the most houses they can get away with, and we, as taxpayers, are left to foot the bill of schools (all schools will need expansion – elementary, middle and high) and roads. Since the BOS designated Crozet as a growth area, we need to lean on them to (a) allocate $$ toward school expansion and (b) make developers give proffers for schools.

    1. One thing you need to understand is that many developers do pay in the form of proffers when they rezone property to help offset the cost of the additional utilities, schools, and infrastructure (old Trail for example, for schools has to pay 1k for single family, 500 for townhouses, and 250 for apartments, which was rezoned in 2004). obviously, it isn’t enough, so maybe a tax referendum would be appropriate in this case. Even if the BOS didn’t designate it as a growth area, it is an area that people want to move to because of the schools, among other things.

      1. I wonder if a referendum would:

        1) be feasible – as Crozet isn’t incorporated, how would the money be targeted/allocated for Crozet schools?

        2) would be people support it? I find that most want “someone else” to pay.

        I’d be interested in having that conversation if the tax was feasible, targeted and protected.

        1. Interesting, the notion of a referendum, especially in an unincorporated area like Crozet. Local referendums in other places, such as Hampton Roads (for transportation $$) nearly always fail, for the very reason you mention in point #2.
          So perhaps we need to first revisit the fact that the current Capital Improvement Program has $87 million set aside for various projects across county government. It was pointed out at Tuesday’s redistricting meeting that maybe some projects should be re-prioritized within the plan to better reflect the acute needs for school facilities.
          Maybe it’s not always a question of needing new funds, but rather one of making the best use of existing funds in light of shifting priorities.

  4. Jim, I think part 2 has actually been omitted….I made 3 separaet posts on FB today, and the 2nd one (which deals with secondary school growth and possible feeder pattern shifts) isn’t showing up here. Thanks! Kelly

    1. Sorry. When I am finished with this home inspection, I will make the edits.
      Thank you again so very much for doing this.

      Please excuse any perceived brevity or curtness. Sent from my iPhone.

      RealCentralVA.com
      434-242-7140

  5. As to the answer of having the developers pay for infrastructure it should be mentioned that at the time Old Trail was approved the amount per new home was lower because the argument was they put significant amounts into infrastructure in the form of sidewalks, curb and gutter and other improvements that up to then were not required. Since then the county has reworked the proffer system and developers pay significantly more for each new home, apartment etc, which is more in line with the additional costs that such development brings. I’m sure this amount will continue to be looked at and adjusted as required.

    Tom

    1. Really good info, Tom. Thanks. But it does sort of beg the question of where the proffer money goes, if not back into schools and other facilities that are directly needed by the folks moving in to these developments. I’m guessing the County Budgets would reflect that. Perhaps this is a question that should be posed to the BOS.

      1. Kelly,

        From what I remember about 70 percent of county tax dollars goes to the school system, a not insignificant amount of money. I also believe that when you look at the population, at least several years ago, only 1 out of 4 homes in the county had students in school and we have had a board that has been very reluctant to raise taxes, so you can see the potential for problems with funding. That said, the fact we have a master plan for the Crozet growth area and the rate of development under that plan gave ample warning to the county that changes would be needed. I have to admit I do question some of the proposals I’ve seen. For instance, why would you want to relocate children out of Old Trail, where many can just about see the school through the trees and can safely walk to school using sidewalks and trails. Not only is it healthy for them to walk to the three schools, but putting them on a school bus, by its very nature puts them at a higher risk of injury. As for the children along Jarman Gap road, didn’t we just redistrict them from Crozet to Brownsville several years ago? We shouldn’t be treating these kids like yo-yo’s. I believe that the residents of the Crozet growth area should solve the issue of who goes to Crozet and who goes to Brownsville once and for all taking into account potential growth in the remaining undeveloped growth area.

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