Crunch Time

Crunch Time

School Board still divided on outcome of West Springfield boundary study.

School Board member Brad Center (Lee) brought along a talking visual aid to a work session Monday, Feb. 13, which summed up the board’s outlook on boundary studies.

When the purple plush beanbag with the brightly-colored face embroidered on it was dropped onto a table, it emitted a loud “Oh no!”

After nine months of debating and receiving input from neighborhoods in the West Springfield High School pyramid, the School Board will vote on action that could realign the Daventry neighborhood into West Springfield during its regular meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23. Just as that boundary study, which has caused division among several communities that feed into West Springfield and Lee high schools, is finished, the School Board is considering opening a new study to examine the boundary at South County Secondary School, which will be 500 students over capacity at the beginning of the 2006-07 school year.

“My intention last year, when I voted to support another study, was to see if West Springfield was overcrowded before we made adjustments,” said board member Jeannie Strauss (Dranesville).

THE TWO BOUNDARY studies are at least partially linked. When boundary lines for the South County Secondary School were being finalized last year, the School Board decided to move the South Hunt Valley community into West Springfield High School. Parents at West Springfield expressed concern that the addition of South Hunt Valley students would cause overcrowding at their school, which in turn prompted the boundary study at West Springfield that the board is scheduled to take action on next week.

However, now that the South County Secondary is expected to be at least 500 students over capacity, the School Board is considering a boundary study at that school starting in September.

When the extra seating capacity at schools like Lake Braddock Secondary School, which is in the final stages of a large renovation project, and Hayfield Secondary School, which lost students to South County, are taken into consideration, no end seems in sight to the boundary studies.

"Initially, there was a concern about overcrowding at West Springfield," said Center, in response to Strauss' question. "That led to the staff indirectly looking at closing split feeders, because we saw that overcrowding there wasn't really an issue."

IN THE CASE of West Springfield, the Office of Facilities Planning has recommended the School Board vote to approve Option Three, which would move the Daventry neighborhood into West Springfield High School and out of Lee High School, closing that split feeder.

At least two other schools, Rolling Valley and Sangster Elementary, are also split feeder schools in the West Springfield and Lee pyramids.

"In my mind, the issue last year was enrollment at West Springfield and split feeders," said Gary Chevalier, chairman of the office of facilities planning. "This year, we've been directed to look at three options for West Springfield: eliminating all the split feeders and take some kids out of West Springfield to prevent overcrowding; look at one specific neighborhood; or leave things the way they are. We saw an opportunity to close this unique situation in Daventry without taking kids out of West Springfield and we felt it deserved consideration."

Chevalier said the situation in Daventry is similar to what directed the board to move South Hunt Valley into West Springfield last year.

"The School Board has been under steady pressure to move both communities back into West Springfield since they were moved out in the 1980s," he said. "We looked at all the options. We made the recommendation to move Daventry because the concerns South Hunt Valley had last year are the same ones Daventry had this year."

If split feeders are the real problem, board member Janet Olszek (At-large) wondered if it would be possible to eliminate all split feeders county-wide.

"Anything is possible, it's just a matter of what you want to do to get there," Chevalier said.

Board member Stephen Hunt (At-large) said he's not sure he can support any study that "adds bodies to West Springfield because it's disingenuous to what we originally set out to do. It concerns me that we're not taking advantage of the extra capacity at Lake Braddock," he said.

Hunt said he'd prefer to move Sangster students to Lake Braddock, which would open up the option of moving Rolling Valley and Daventry students into West Springfield. That option, however, has not been discussed for several months.

"If we move that option, we need to alert the Sangster community," said Gibson. "That happened to the West Springfield community last year and it's not fair. If we're going to go back to a place where there are more options on the table for discussion after not talking about it for months, why have the town meeting process at all."

Ilryong Moon (At-large), chair of the School Board, asked what the role of the board has in deciding a boundary study if the only action it can take is to vote "up or down" with the staff recommendation.

"We have to have the option to do more than just vote on the staff recommendation," said board member Tessie Wilson (Braddock). "This is a small flaw in the system, but to fix it we have to lengthen the process or say we can't deviate from the staff recommendation."