Loudoun To Redraw School Zones

By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 16, 2008

Facing budget constraints that will delay school construction, Loudoun County officials might have to redraw the attendance boundaries of as many as 34 schools to alleviate crowding, Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said last week.

Citing the county's fiscal troubles and the difficulty of floating new bonds, the Loudoun Board of Supervisors has told the school system not to expect approval of any building project in the next fiscal year.

That freeze, coupled with ongoing school construction delays linked to land-use issues, means school officials will have to redraw many attendance zones for the 2009-10 academic year to prevent student crowding from getting worse, Hatrick told the School Board on Tuesday.

Hatrick made the comments as he presented his proposed five-year school construction plan to the board. The plan would delay the previous timeline for 16 construction projects by a year, including four projects totaling $157.8 million that school officials had wanted to undertake next year: a new high school in Ashburn, new elementary schools in the Leesburg and Dulles areas and renovations at Park View High.

The plan "is in some ways the most difficult [capital improvement program] I've had to present," Hatrick said, "because we're working on so many variable levels with so many sources of funding."

School officials project continued enrollment growth despite the economic downturn and the slowdown in housing construction, in part because existing Loudoun families continue to get bigger, said Sam Adamo, director of planning and legislative services for the school system. His office expects that the school district, still by far the region's fastest-growing, will increase from 57,000 students this year to almost 72,000 in 2013.

"We will still be growing for over a decade," Adamo said. "There are going to be a series of boundary changes that are going to occur at all levels" if the School Board approves them.

Among the possible boundary adjustments described by school officials: Legacy and Mill Run elementary schools would send students to Creighton's Corner Elementary; Newton-Lee and Seldens Landing elementary schools would send students to Cedar Lane and Belmont Station elementary schools; some students at Mercer Middle would move to Stone Hill Middle; and some students from Briar Woods, Broad Run, Stone Bridge, Heritage and Loudoun County high schools might be shifted to Tuscarora High in Leesburg when it opens in fall 2010.

Elementary and middle school boundaries in the Leesburg area also might shift to distribute students more equally there, officials said.

Hatrick also outlined a strategy for addressing student crowding in Western Loudoun if Woodgrove High near Purcellville, which is the focus of a protracted legal battle between the county and town, does not open by fall 2010.

Under his contingency plan, Kenneth W. Culbert Elementary would open as scheduled next fall but as an annex to Harmony Intermediate instead of as an elementary school. Grades six to eight would be at Harmony and Culbert, and Blue Ridge Middle would be used as a second campus for Loudoun Valley High for grades nine to 12.

Purcellville officials have objected to the Woodgrove site, saying the county has not done enough to address the school's impact on traffic and utilities. County and town officials are in settlement talks, but it remains unclear whether a resolution is close. Adamo said Friday that he fears that after Tuscarora High opens in Leesburg in 2010, the next high school opening might not occur until 2013.

The School Board also voted Tuesday, 6 to 3, to direct Hatrick to prepare several versions of the proposed 2010 operating budget that anticipate local funding cuts of 15, 10 and 5 percent, a no-growth budget and a budget that incorporates all programs Hatrick deems necessary. Members Thomas E. Reed (At Large), Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) and Tom Marshall (Leesburg) voted against the measure.

Board Vice Chairman John Stevens (Potomac), who proposed the measure, said it would provide "strategic guidance to the superintendent" and would help supervisors understand the impact of funding the school system at various levels.

But Reed said that supervisors had already directed the school system to prepare budgets at those levels, and he called the discussions on Stevens's proposal an opportunity for "grandstanding."

"Is there something in this motion that Dr. Hatrick has not agreed to previously?" Reed asked.

"Nothing," Hatrick replied.

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