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School Bd. Members Discuss Boundaries

One thing for sure: Parents in the Sully and Springfield Districts take an active interest in their children's education. And those on both sides of the middle-school boundary issue are currently bombarding Fairfax County School Board members with phone calls and e-mails to plead their cases.

"Over the last 48 hours, the e-mails have been coming in 10-20 an hour," said School Board Chairman Stu Gibson, Tuesday afternoon. "I cleared out 103 e-mails on Sunday evening."

Although Springfield District representative Cathy Belter did not respond to Centre View for this article, the new middle school and the Willow Springs community wanting to attend it are in her area. Therefore, said at-large School Board representative Mychele Brickner, if any amendment to the current boundary proposal is made, it would come from Belter.

Brickner said concerned parents have been busily meeting with all the School Board members on this matter. And while acknowledging Facilities Planning Services' recommendation excluding Willow Springs, she noted that, from the very first meeting, people were asking why their children, too, couldn't attend the new school.

"I look at boundaries, wherever possible, to make logical decisions and make schools neighborhood schools as much as possible," said Brickner. "And these people are right there. But we're telling parents that, if they go to the new middle school, they won't go to Centreville High — they'll go to Fairfax." However, she didn't rule out the possibility that these parents could someday petition to go to Centreville.

She said Lanier's overcrowding also had to be factored into any decision, but admitted that, "If this amendment gets on the table, it would mean the southwest county middle school would open right at capacity or a little above."

The proposed boundary is currently at Clifton Road. If it were moved east to Colchester Road, said Brickner, it would mean 108 more middle-schoolers. If moved even further east, to the county parkway, another 28 middle-schoolers would feed into the new school.

Meanwhile, she said, "The School Board has the final say and things can change before the final decision is made. [The parents'] voices are being heard, and board members are getting and reading their e-mails. We'll weigh everything and discuss it all before making a decision."

Gibson, though, is less than enchanted with the actions of the Willow Springs group. "We changed the boundary process in 1998 to allow parents to be involved in crafting the boundaries for schools in their communities," he said. "The real question is, 'Are we going to keep faith with the people who we told, here's what the process is going to be?'"

He said the new middle school is intended to relieve Rocky Run and Stone, and people from Lanier knew it: "Staff and School Board members told them [Lanier wasn't an issue], and parents should be able to rely on that without being blindsided at the end." He also questions whether the petitioners' signatures are from homes with middle-school-age children.

"We have to make sure we're not unduly burdening any one school," said Gibson. "The Willow Springs parents would have us put blinders on. They'd only have us look at the impact of moving Lanier into the new school, instead of looking at the potential for growth in that whole southwest area. Staff told us, 'Even if you switch Centreville Farms to Lanier, the day the school opens, it'll be overcrowded. You're adding 175 kids more on the first day, if you move Willow Springs kids.'"

He also can't ignore the fact that Rocky Run has 21 trailers, Stone has 17 and Lanier just has five. And he said the board members are fully aware that Centreville High looms large in the petitioners' minds.

"I'm in my seventh year doing boundaries as a board member and, with every single boundary, [parents] always look at the high school," said Gibson. "They'd have to think we're pretty naive to think the high school wouldn't come up."

His two major concerns are the boundary process and overcrowding. "We told people how the process works, and then people do a large petition drive at the last moment," he said. "That's not fair to people we told from day one, 'Don't worry; we're not going to touch you.'"

Furthermore, asked Gibson, "How willing should the School Board be to jam-pack it to the rafters, the first day of school, when we don't have to — knowing there are other large tracts of land that people could still build on? We've been playing catch-up for a long time in western Fairfax, and you just can't keep adding trailers."