The outgoing members of the Alexandria School Board have left the building. Their controversial terms spanned some of the most contentious days in the recent memory of the city — everything from issuing laptop computers to every high school student to dealing with the aftermath of Superintendent Rebecca Perry’s drunk-driving conviction.
The layers of controversy and stained interpersonal relationships left such a sour taste in the mouths of the elected leaders that only one member — Charles Wilson — stood for reelection. And he received the fewest amount of votes of any successful candidate in the city.
"I don’t have mixed feelings about leaving the School Board," said Sally Ann Baynard. "I won’t miss it at all."
Each board member chose his or her own way of ending the term. Melissa Luby said that she would like to see the long-troubled Jefferson-Houston Elementary School closed — with its students being moved to the shiny new Potomac Yard school. Ken Foran declined to make a statement. Baynard read a poem.
"I know I wasn’t perfect — far from it," said outgoing chairwoman Mollie Danforth. "I could never figure out how to work this microphone."
She thanked the staff for their hard work, and then she ended her term. As she gaveled the final School Board meeting to a conclusion, she suggested that the members sing Kum Ba Yah. Everyone laughed, but nobody sang.
Declining Enrollment to Continue
The next School Board will have to face many issues, but one of the most challenging may be declining enrollment. According to a demographic study received by the outgoing board members, enrollment trends are expected to continue.
The study cited numbers that showed a steady declining trend in enrollment figures over the past six years. Since 2001, the city has lost 883 students. That’s an 8 percent decline — and the declining trend shows no hint of slowing anytime soon. A table included with the study showed a projected enrollment of 10,139 for the 2015-2016 school year, a decline of 219 students.
"The United States as a whole continues to undergo major shifts in public student enrollment, due in large part to past events including the baby boom, the availability of birth control and the development of suburbs," reported the study, which was conducted by DeJong, an Ohio-based educational facility planning firm. "As of the 2000 Census, the size of a family was at an all-time low of 3.14 persons and is expected to experience a further decline."
The study also tracked a lack of retention as the students become older. For example, 25 percent fewer students are in the 12th grade this year than were in the 6th grade six years ago. The enrollment peak is in Kindergarten, which has 995, with a low in the 12th grade, which has 585 students.
"The build-out analysis shows that while there is new development with potential to yield students, declining enrollment projections due to lower income class enrollments and low survival ratios will offset the potential student yields," the study concluded.
The Superintendent’s Future
During the recent campaign for School Board, the subject of Superintendent Rebecca Perry’s future was a looming shadow over the election. Ever since her drunk-driving conviction in 2004 — an event that’s often euphemistically referred to as "the incident" — Perry’s future has been a matter of controversy.
Since "the incident," her pay was raised and her contract was extended A June 15, 2004 contract raised her pay from $168,000 to $189,745 — plus cost-of-living increases — and her contract termination was extended from June 30, 2005 to June 30,2008.
"A buyout would cost us about $400,000, and I wouldn’t be in favor of the School Board spending that kind of money," said School Board Vice Chairman Charles Wilson. "There was ‘the incident,’ but that’s over and done with. I think the superintendent will be around until her contract expires on June 30, 2008."