Three key members of the Rural Loudoun School Study Committee have resigned or reduced their involvement with the group in the last three weeks, just as the committee nears completion of a report about the impact of residential development on small schools.
One of the committee's original co-chairmen, Charles Beardsley, resigned June 13. Peter Dezendorf, a member who was appointed to fill Beardsley's chairman slot, quit last week. Ed Higgins, who was a chairman with Beardsley, stepped down from that job but said he will continue to serve on the committee.
In separate interviews, all three said the committee lacked cohesion to develop meaningful recommendations on how to prepare for the influx of students headed for Loudoun's western flank. The committee was formed in response to the concerns of western parents who want their children to attend neighborhood schools rather than be bused to the eastern part of the county, where school construction has been concentrated.
"There are people on the committee who are looking more at what's best for their individual school than what is [in] the best interests of the whole county," said Higgins, a Purcellville resident whose children attend Banneker Elementary School in Middleburg. He declined to identify those committee members.
As a result of the dissension, the committee's recommendations will be "watered down," Higgins said. "We've lost a lot of the potential of what that report could have been."
Beardsley, who lives in Leesburg, said committee members spend too much time discussing issues that aren't specific to western Loudoun, such as teacher training and planning time.
"Truthfully, I felt the committee was wandering away from its original charge," he said.
The two new chairmen, Nancy Doane, of Lovettsville, and Beth Halley, of Leesburg, are compiling the committee's recommendations in a written report that will be presented to the Loudoun County School Board at its July 13 meeting.
"We're moving forward with the report, and the committee members have reached consensus on issues for the School Board to look at for future planning," said Sam C. Adamo, director of planning and legislative services.
But Halley acknowledged that recent meetings have been contentious.
"People had different expectations and agendas and hopes of what was going to be accomplished," Halley said.
The most controversial issue--whether to recommend consolidating or closing some of the small schools in western Loudoun--won't be mentioned. Halley said committee members felt unqualified to confront the politically sensitive issue.
"I don't think we, as a committee, know enough about each school to make that decision," she said.
Instead, the committee will recommend another study. That one would include all older schools in the area and would address three issues: how cost-efficient they are to operate, how they would accommodate rapid enrollment growth and whether instruction is compromised by space constraints.
The committee also will recommend that enrollment at any new schools be capped at 450, with room to expand to 600 students.
School officials predict that an additional 4,700 students will enroll in western Loudoun over the next few years, based on residential development already approved by the county Planning Commission.
For that reason, the School Board last year appointed the committee of parents and other school activists from the area to recommend how the school district, Virginia's fastest growing, should plan for the increase.
School officials have built several new schools in the eastern region of the county in the last four years, but just one--Round Hill Elementary--in the west. It is due to open in August.
School Board members said the dissension is not surprising; western Loudoun residents are fiercely protective of their neighborhood schools.
"I knew it wouldn't be easy," said Harry F. Holsinger (Blue Ridge). "My hope is we'll get some recommendations that we can use."
School Board Chairman Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles) said, "It's pretty important to bring the issues to the forefront."