A group of Fairfax County parents gathered at Robinson Secondary School this week, and principal William Jackson dropped by to make a pitch for the $74.8 million school bond referendum on the ballot next month.
Vote for the bonds, he said, and Robinson will not be so crowded.
His best argument was just beyond the door and only minutes away: Classes let out and a torrent of students spilled into the 25-foot-wide corridors, filling them from wall to wall and packing the stairs.
"The halls are so crowded it takes you longer to get to your locker, and then you're always late for class," said senior Lisa D'Andrea.
"Classes like math, where you need individual help, they're so crowded that you can't get that," said senior Amy Dittemore.
Senior Robert Post said that the long wait in line at the cafeteria is the best reason he ever had to lunch at McDonald's. But if fast food is a treat, trying out for the soccer team at Robinson is not.
"Making the soccer team when 300 people are trying out is much harder," he said.
Robinson, on Sideburn Road in Fairfax, has 4,610 students, or 560 more than it was built to hold. The school, along with Lake Braddock Secondary, Oakton High, Chantilly High and West Springfield High, has had to erect temporary classrooms on the property to house its growing number of students. And the number of students in the five schools is expected to rise as housing subdivisions continue to open in the western part of the county.
The School Board tried last spring to correct some of the crowding by redrawing school attendance boundaries. The changes, developed after an arduous public debate, are meant to lower enrollments in almost all crowded schools in the county over the next five years.
The plan's success also depends upon construction of a new high school, Braddock Park, which would be financed by the $74.8 million school bond issue that voters will approve or reject on Nov. 6.
Critics of the bond issue say that high school crowding in western Fairfax could have been alleviated this year if school officials had made bolder boundary adjustments last year and shifted more students from western to eastern schools.
The critics, many of whom studied the county's enrollment problems last spring, contend that the School Board buckled under pressure from community groups that objected to the more drastic boundary changes proposed by Superintendent William J. Burkholder.
"I don't think the problem would have been eliminated, but students would have had a better environment to learn this year if the School Board had taken more courageous actions during the boundary changes," said Brenda Greene, who served last year on the Citizens Committee on Changing Enrollments in Secondary Schools.
Students and teachers in crowded schools are being used as political pawns by some proponents of the bond issue, she said.
"I think it's unfair to use them to make the point that a new high school is needed because they're in overcrowded situation," Greene said.
John Schreck, the division superintendent who was the school system's liaison with the committee on changing enrollments, said that the School Board's decisions were based "on what it thought was in the best interest of the majority of the citizens in the county."
He said the board's concern was to disrupt as few communities as possible and avoid long bus rides. And he said that boundary changes would not eliminate the need for a new high school.
Under one of Burkholder's earlier proposals, Robinson was projected to have 4,339 students this fall. His plan called for placing about 130 students, now in seventh grade at Robinson, at Lanier Intermediate this fall. Instead, the only change adopted last year has added to Robinson's enrollment about 140 ninth-grade students who otherwise would have gone to West Springfield High.
The School Board left most of Robinson's attendance area untouched and proposed, as the major solution, building Braddock Park High between Clifton and Burke. A proposal to transform Robinson from a secondary school to a large high school also was abandoned.
With the School Board's decision, enrollment was expected to be 4,549. That turned out to be 61 fewer than the 4,610 who enrolled.
"There were several alternative proposals for Robinson to help the overcrowding problem, but the community didn't want any part of them," Greene said. She said that parents had "testified that they'd rather stay in overcrowded schools than move anywhere."