New schools might help ease overcrowding in Fairfax County

December 29, 2013

The Fairfax County School Board is proposing $866 million in school construction and renovations, part of an effort by the administration to address a surge in student enrollment that has led to significant crowding problems.

The school system has grown by about 20,000 students since 2006, and it had an enrollment of 184,500 this year. Based on current trends, school administrators predict that the student population could reach 199,000 by 2018.

The 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) calls for building five elementary schools within the next five years to handle the growth, which the administration has struggled to address.

“The proposed CIP will help address the many needed repair, maintenance, and new construction projects,” Fairfax schools Superintendent Karen Garza said in a statement. “However, FCPS continues to face a critical shortage of facilities as our growth is rapidly outpacing available classrooms and facilities. Without an infusion of additional capital dollars, the current and anticipated enrollment increases will continue to present a major challenge for FCPS as we struggle to provide sufficient capacity in our schools.”

During the past five years, the school system has needed to add 130 classrooms annually to keep up with enrollment, but it has built only about 74 classrooms a year.

The school system is “growing too fast for the amount of support they are getting,” said Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers.

Greenburg noted that the school system is allotted $155 million annually in bonds for construction costs, compared with the $270 million that the administration says will be needed for new projects.

An effort in support of adding a meals tax in the county to raise funds for infrastructure needs has gained momentum in recent months. Several school board members, including Ryan McElveen (At Large), have called for such a proposal to be put on a referendum for voters.

In an online blog entry, headlined “Fairfax Schools Face Greatest Crisis Since 1950s,” McElveen described deteriorating schools.

“Sagging hallways. Stained carpeting. Musty locker rooms. Suffocating science labs. Restrooms evocative of truck stops,” McElveen wrote, noting that a meals tax could help fund renovation projects to improve conditions at some schools.

In January, the school board will host a public hearing on the new capital improvement program. The board is slated to vote on the proposal at the end of the month.

T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
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