Board Sets Elementary Boundaries

Board Sets Elementary Boundaries

Decision leaves some parents smiling, others not.

Barbara Malinowski has lost her fight to keep her three children at Little River Elementary School in South Riding. She and her neighbors objected to their children being bused past two schools to the new Pinebrook Elementary School in Aldie’s Kirkpatrick Farms.

Pinebrook, Newton-Lee and Legacy elementary schools are slated to open in the fall, requiring the School Board to reset boundaries to determine which students will change schools. Newton-Lee is near the Belmont Country Club in Ashburn, and Legacy is in Brambleton.

“We were just thinking it was illogical for the eastern-most part of the county to go the western-most school,” Malinowski said Sunday. “There is not a portion of Loudoun County that is more eastern.”

She is among the parents of 82 students in Ridings of Blue Springs who failed to persuade the board members to not move their children when they set the boundaries Dec. 14. In addition to distance, she is concerned about safety. Bus drivers will either travel Route 50 or the unpaved Braddock Road, which crosses Gum Spring Road where there is no light or stop sign. As for Route 50, she said, “It’s a major highway. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would suggest using a major highway.”

SCHOOL OFFICIALS, HOWEVER, say they would use Route 50 if Braddock Road is not paved in time for the start of school.

Michael Lunsford, the school district’s director of transportation, said contractors are supposed to reconfigure the Gum Spring and Braddock roads intersection and install a traffic light by the start of school. “That intersection is too dangerous,” he said. “Route 50 is the backup. The only reason to use Route 50 is if the other road projects have not been completed.”

He said that highway is similar to Route 7 “some years ago.”

“Your accident rates are probably higher. It is safer to take roads internally and not add to the congestion on the commuter roads.”

Malinowski questioned whether Ridings of Blue Springs, south of Route 50 and north of Poland Road, was put at a disadvantage, because it is a by-right community. It was not a planned community, so developers did not provide proffers of money, land, services, schools or other gifts in exchange for increased zoning rights.

School Board Chairman John Andrews said the decision was made on the basis of proximity to the school and how many times students already have changed schools.

He acknowledged Loudoun has a lot of by-right homes, because the zoning process was so difficult four or five years ago. “There was a disincentive to go through the zoning process,” he said.

He said the school district is now at a disadvantage for acquiring land. He does not agree students only in planned communities should be permitted to attend schools that were proffered for their development. But if their homes are closer to the schools, then they have a greater chance of remaining there based on proximity.

SCHOOL BOARD Member Robert Dupree (Dulles) said he could not support Malinowski’s request given the arguments of parents in other enrollment areas. “I tried to solve the problem, but it just wouldn’t work,” he said. “The alternative was to move people who are as close, and in many cases, closer [to Little River Elementary] to Pinebrook. … I really did agonize over this one.”

He pledged to provide a long-range solution for her section of the county, where development is mushrooming. Dupree said his goal was to minimize disruptions caused by boundary changes. “But we have to deal with a growth problem in the Dulles area,” he said.

Vice Chairman Thomas Reed agreed. “It is absolutely startling how much development that is there,” he said. Unfortunately, this is an interim plan. It’s the best interim plan we have.”

The School Board set boundaries based on the recommendation of the Loudoun County Public Schools staff, with three exceptions:

* Students west of Route 659 and south of the Greenway will remain at Hillside Elementary School.

* Students west of South Riding Boulevard, plus those living on Hiddenwood, Racefield and Youngwood Lane, will go to Pinebrook Elementary School.

* Students in a triangular area north of Tall Cedars Parkway and east of South Riding Boulevard will remain at Hutchison Farm Elementary School.

Amy Lerch lives in the oldest section of South Riding or the northeastern-most corner of the community. She said she is glad her two sons will remain at Hutchison Farm. If they had to go to Pinebrook, as the staff had suggested, they would have changed schools four times in six years. They already have attended Arcola, Little River and Hutchison Farm, she said.

“It didn’t seem reasonable to me,” she said. “One of the factors that is supposed to be considered is the number of changes.”

She said she recognized it was not an easy decision for the School Board. She commended Dupree for taking the time to travel the potential and existing bus routes, for meeting with parents and responding to hundreds of e-mails. “I don’t think it is easy to be a School Board member in the fastest growing county with parents who not only expect new schools, but really good schools,” she said.

Sarah Entsminger and her neighbors persuaded the School Board to keep their children from switching from Hillside Elementary to Belmont Station Elementary, both in Ashburn. “We are the only neighborhood right now on the west side of 659, and while we know in the future there will be more kids, and we’ll become too large for the school here … we didn’t want to go somewhere temporarily.”

School Board Member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said he objected to moving students temporarily. “My policy is any decision to take children out of a school system needs to be done in a much more serious fashion and not done in a temporary fashion,” he told board members.

THE BOUNDARY CHANGE would have affected one of Entsminger’s sons and about 25 other students. “We would have passed three other elementary schools to get there,” she said.

Theresa Hartzog said her daughter would have attended Legacy in Ashburn, but the board’s decision allows her to go to Pinebrook. Harzog said her daughter receives special-education services at Arcola Elementary School this year, and all of her teachers are going to Pinebrook. The school district is leveling Arcola and building a bigger school in its place.

John Lamb said he is glad his daughter will stay at Little River Elementary School, less than a mile from their home. He said construction in his neighborhood has leveled out while the Ridings of Blue Springs is growing. “We feel bad,” he said. “I’m sure the other kids aren’t happy. We’re all going to have to move around eventually.”

Reed said the board’s decision to increase the school size will mean fewer boundary decisions in the future. “Children don’t get lost in large schools. They get lost in large classrooms. This board is committed to smaller classrooms,” he said.

Andrews said boundary changes are inevitable in a high-growth area. The boundaries in Potomac Falls took 25 years to mature and in J. Warren Geurin's (Sterling) area, 40 years to mature. “Until the areas grow out, there will be change,” he said.

The new boundaries also change attendance zones in

Arcola, Ashburn, Belmont Station, Cedar Lane, Dominion Trail, Hillside, Mil Run and Seldens Landing elementary schools.

Geurin said a new school will be needed in South Riding, because Legacy, Pinebrook, Hutchison and Seldens Landing in Leesburg will be overcrowded by the fall of 2009.

Dupree agreed. “Five years from now, there is still going to be over 700 new students east of South Riding,” he said. “We are going to need a school site.”