Some school construction projects could be delayed, if newly released enrollment projections are correct. While the number of students in Loudoun County schools is still growing, the rate of growth was recently revised downwards.
This change has some school officials saying that some new schools may need to be placed on hold. "This might mean delaying particular school construction," said School Board member J. Warren Geurin.
Construction projects which are already underway are not in jeopardy. Current projects, such as Hillsboro, Rolling Ridge and Sugarland elementary school renovations are still underway.
"There are no immediate effects," said Sam C. Adamo, director of the school’s Department of Planning and Legislative Services. "The money has already been allocated to all the questions put on the bond referendum, including middle school renovations, and will move forward."
The slowing rate of increase is being attributed to the slackening real estate market.
"Back when we did the [initial projections] in September, there hadn’t been any indication of the market slowing down," said Adamo. "If housing slows down, we’re not going to have as many people moving into Loudoun and as many new students attending our schools."
In September 2005, Adamo had predicted the student population would grow by 3,379 students (seven percent), from 47,361 students in 2005 to 50,740 students in 2006. He based the enrollement projection on housing permit projections (which indicate that a new house is under construction) of 6,000. Although slightly less then recent years, that growth was generally in keeping with the past decade’s trends.
Julia Hayes, assistant director for permits for the Loudoun County Department of Planning said that her department issued 4,145 housing permits from July 1, 2005 to June 30, 2006.
Hayes said she estimate if the slowdown will continue. "The number of housing permits issued depends so much on the intetest rate, gasoline prices, how many people want to move out west," she said. "There are so many factors. It’s hard to say."
Based on the lower number of permits, Adamo revised downward his projection for next year’s enrollment.
The new projections have Loudoun’s schools adding between 2,600 and 2,800 new students this year, an increase of six to 6.5 percent.
EVEN THOUGH THE student enrollment projections dropped by between 500 and 750 students, Loudoun County Public School’s Spokesperson Wayde Byard said that’s not enough to affect new programs or the funding of extracurricular activities.
When school starts on September 5, administrators will take a head count. Over the next 10 days, they will report daily enrollment numbers to the state. They will take a final count on September 30. That number is used for planning and legislative services for future years.
Traditionally, schools pick up additional students between September and December, Byard said. "We’ll have a better idea then."
Adamo said he plans to revisit the numbers around that time.
"We might push new schools back a year or two depending on what numbers we get in the fall," he said.
If the numbers hold true, Geurin said next year’s budget will be affected.
"Our Operating and Capital Improvements budgets are dependent on what we need," he said. Operating budgets fund day to day operation of schools and include payroll. Capital Improvements budgets include larger construction projects like new schools and major renovations.
While this might seem like an opportunity to play catch up or take a breather, Geurin said the problem is not the money for the construction of new schools, but finding a location for them.
"We can’t play catch up because its difficult finding a location for schools as it is," he said. "We can’t play catch up or take a breather until we have definite numbers in November or December."
This year’s budget will change little, if at all, Byard said. The difference between September’s projections and December’s new figures won’t dramatically affect the hiring of new teachers and personnel.
"First, we have to see how the numbers are spread across the county. This could mean only one or two kids fewer in a classroom," he said. "We haven’t stopped hiring. We might hold a few in reserve. We’ll just have to see."
While administrators haven’t stopped hiring for this year, Geurin said the new numbers will impact next year’s budget.
On July 1, the School Board allocated money for the hiring of approximately 700 new teachers. Since the new projections, they’ve changed that number to 550.
"If we don’t have a need for an additional 150 teachers, we’re not going to hire them," he said.