By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Loudoun County officials are grappling with the timetable for a new high school in Ashburn, with two county supervisors pushing for it to be built two years ahead of schedule to relieve crowding at other Loudoun schools.
The $99 million Ashburn high school, dubbed HS-6 by county officials, is to be built in Loudoun Valley Estates, near the Loudoun County Parkway and Ryan Road. It is slated to open in fall 2014.
But in a sometimes-contentious two-hour meeting of the Board of Supervisors' finance committee last week, Supervisors Lori L. Waters (R-Broad Run) and James Burton (I-Blue Ridge) pushed for the school to open in fall 2012. Burton called the opening of another school, Tuscarora High School in Leesburg, in fall 2010 a "temporary fix."
"I am not going to keep beating my head up against the wall. . . . This is a short-term solution," Burton said of Tuscarora High.
Other supervisors said they feared that moving up construction of the Ashburn school would put too much pressure on the county's already tight purse strings.
"We are broke as we can be. I would like to remind everyone that we told parents that this is the worst budget year ever," said Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles). "I don't want to lose sight of that message."
A committee vote is scheduled for Wednesday, in time for the board's April 7 budget deadline.
Waters's and Burton's plan goes a step further than a proposal from Sam Adamo, the school district's director of legislative and planning services, to move up the Ashburn high school's opening date by one year.
School administrators say they haven't finalized a position on either proposal. Loudoun School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said there is a "crying need" for other school projects, including the $94 million replacement of the Monroe Advanced Technology Academy, a specialized high school in Leesburg. He also cautioned that enrollment projections are likely to drop next year as the county's once-staggering growth slows, requiring further revision of plans to move students around.
"Frankly, we won't know where we stand on growth until the next enrollment numbers come out September 30th, so we're just going to have to see what to do," he said.
Loudoun's school system, which with 57,000 students is the fifth-largest in Virginia, has long faced problems related to growth.
Nearly every Loudoun high school is facing crowding issues this year: Loudoun County High School is 62 students over capacity, Heritage High School is 200 students over its limit and Stone Bridge High School has 221 students more than it should.
Under attendance boundary changes proposed by school administrators for 2010, enrollment would drop at those three schools. But the drop would be at the expense of Briar Woods High School in Ashburn, which has an enrollment this year of 1,268 students. By 2010, Briar Woods would have 1,704 students, a 34 percent increase, more than its capacity of roughly 1,600. And long-term enrollment projections indicate that for several high schools, the relief from crowding could be short-lived.
Building the Ashburn high school sooner has become a hot-button issue for parents. Residents on both sides of the issue streamed into Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting to sound off on the proposal, and parents have flooded supervisors' e-mail accounts.
Trish Drennan, a Lansdowne parent with three children, including two boys in elementary school, called the Ashburn school's construction a "long-term, sustainable solution" that is being fought by a group of parents who fear that their children will face another boundary change in a few years.
"No one wants to have to move their child to another school. I have empathy for that," Drennan said. "But we need to bite the bullet now and do what's best down the road."
Drennan is one of roughly 400 parents who are members of the community group Children First Lansdowne, which has been urging supervisors to speed up construction of the Ashburn school.
But many parents in Ashburn Farm say that the proposal is fiscally irresponsible and would initially benefit only about 500 children in the Lansdowne area while forcing more boundary changes.
"It shoves 90 percent of Ashburn Farm out of their own community high school," said Wendy Wooley, a parent of three children in Ashburn Farm, adding that there have been 18 school boundary changes affecting her community in the past 20 years. "It shouldn't be community against community. Our flaw is we don't have a feeder system for the elementary school to middle school."