Nearly 200 more students have enrolled in Fauquier County public schools this year than was forecast -- the equivalent of eight high school classes -- bringing the total to 10,716 as of Friday, school officials said.
Fauquier is growing at a faster rate each year, so the traditional method of projecting enrollment for the county's 18 public schools has been consistently underestimating the number of students, Mark Cornwell, assistant superintendent for administration, told the School Board at its meeting Monday.
"If the county is continuing to grow faster than it was the previous year, it's never going to be an accurate count" because the projections use enrollment figures and growth rates from the previous year, he said, adding that getting more detailed and accurate information on new housing developments could help.
Cornwell said 120 of the unexpected students are at Fauquier's elementary schools. Ten more trailers, however, had to be leased to use as classrooms at Liberty and Fauquier high schools, which were already seriously crowded. Those trailers are in addition to 12 trailers leased last year. Voters will decide in a March referendum whether to build a third high school.
In other business, the School Board voted unanimously to renovate Claude Thompson Elementary School in Marshall, which has kindergarten and first-grade classes, and convert it into a school for kindergarteners through fifth-graders rather than to raze it and rebuild. The school, which opened in 1964 to consolidate the county's seven small African American schools, has a leaky roof, cracked foundation and problems with its well.
Renovations were scheduled to begin this summer, but when School Board members learned this year that the cost had increased from $3 million to $8 million, they froze their plans. Claude Thompson's 200 kindergarten and first-grade students are attending a "school within a school" in nearby W.G. Coleman Elementary.
The board's decision to renovate the little brick school despite the steep cost increase was met with applause and cheers from about 80 residents who packed the meeting, many wearing "Save Claude Thompson" stickers.
It was never a question of whether the school was worth saving, said School Board member Sally F. Murray (Center), who referred to it as an "icon" of the desegregation era that came after the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.
"Claude Thompson has the one thing that no one else has and everyone else wants, and that's 'small,' " Murray said, praising the school's limited class sizes and "warm, family atmosphere."
The question was the cost, she said, which remains a challenge as the School Board prepares a resolution to present to the Board of Supervisors, which has final say over the project.
The renovation would probably take at least a year and a half, officials said. School Board members said they hoped to reopen Claude Thompson in fall 2006.
Eura Lewis, a Middleburg resident who began teaching at Claude Thompson in 1964 and transferred to Coleman in the 1980s, said she was "exuberant" about the School Board's decision but concerned about the next steps. "I'm waiting to see how it's going to work out [with the Board of Supervisors]," she said.
In another sign of how fast Fauquier's school system is growing, officials said they were not able to fill 15 teaching positions this year. Fauquier often loses teachers to neighboring districts, particularly Loudoun and Prince William counties, which have traditionally offered higher salaries.
Five substitute teachers are filling in for as many as 90 days, said Francine Bouldin, the school system's director of human resources. Ten other instructors are teaching extra classes to cover the vacancies.
By this time in the school year, most available teachers have signed contracts with other jurisdictions, Bouldin told the board. She said she hoped to recruit December graduates from teaching colleges or find teachers on national Web sites.
"It's not typical in Fauquier" to have this many vacancies, she said. "But it's not an anomaly."