New School = New Boundaries

New School = New Boundaries

When Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick sent a letter home to Broad Run and Dulles area families about the opening of a new Stone Hill Middle School, Farmwell Middle School PTO president Stacy Moren was concerned.

The letter said the new school would impact attendance boundaries for Belmont Ridge, Eagle Ridge, Farmwell Station and Mercer middle schools.

"While I'm certain that Stone Hill Middle School will bring the same level of excellence to the families it serves as the existing schools, it will also bring some difficult transitions and adjustments for children who have become familiar with and confident in the Farmwell Station Middle School community," she said in January. "My biggest concern is that all the kids land safely."

School Board chairman Robert DuPree (Dulles) agreed attendance boundaries could get messy.

"They are not just dots on a map," DuPree said. "There are families behind those dots."

LOUDOUN COUNTY Public Schools' Director of Planning and Legislative Services Sam Adamo presented his department's Stone Hill Middle School attendance boundary recommendation to the School Board Tuesday, March 14.

Stone Hill Middle School, scheduled to open in fall 2007, is located in Ashburn's Loudoun Valley Estates II subdivision.

"When it comes to boundaries, all of us really wish we had the easy button," Adamo said.

The Department of Planning and Legislative Services projects Belmont Ridge, Eagle Ridge, Farmwell Station and Mercer middle schools will be well over capacity within several years.

Belmont Ridge Middle School's current student population, 1,218, exceeds its capacity, 1,121, by 97 students. The planning department projects the school's student population will increase over the next six years, culminating with 1,702 students enrolled in Belmont Ridge Middle School in 2011.

Conversely, Eagle Ridge, Farmwell Station and Mercer middle schools are under capacity. However, department projections show Farmwell Station Middle School, which has the largest capacity of 1,159 students, will be over capacity next year. Mercer Middle School, which has a capacity of 1,149 students, will be over capacity by 2007 and Eagle Ridge Middle School, which has a capacity of 1,130 students, will be over capacity by 2009.

Stone Hill Middle School is anticipated to have a program capacity of 1,350 students, Adamo said.

FIRST, THE PLANNING department went to the community for input on Stone Hill Middle School attendance boundary recommendations.

"We went to the public with five plans and received an additional six plans from people in the community," Adamo said. "Staff looked at all of them and came up with a recommendation."

Adamo said the department considered school enrollment projections, area school's capacities, transportation issues like walk zones, costs and safety, and existing and planned communities in the area.

"Our challenge was to remove kids, create a better balance in enrollment and provide relief to some of the overcrowded facilities in the north," Adamo said.

After reviewing construction plans and community input, the planning department came up with its recommendations. Students who live in the areas between the Dulles Greenway and Ashburn Farm will attend Belmont Ridge Middle School. Some students who attend Farmwell Station Middle School will be shipped to Eagle Ridge Middle School.

The planning department made recommendations to create smaller versions of Belmont Ridge and Farmwell Station middle schools.

The recommendations will temporarily alleviate overcrowding Belmont Ridge Middle School.

AS ADAMO presented the School Board with enrollment projections through 2012, School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) converted projected enrollments into dollar signs.

Ohneiser asked Superintendent Edgar Hatrick what would happen if the Board of Supervisors chooses not to fund new schools needed in the Broad Run and Dulles election districts.

Hatrick said the Board of Supervisors and School Board would have to take measures to prevent overcrowding.

"There are a number of measures that I think boards would have to take whether they want to or not, including enlarging class sizes, perhaps restricting program availability so that spaces that are used for certain programs now can be converted into classroom use," Hatrick said. "If we look to the east we see, literally a sea of trailers. In the extreme, we would look at such things as double shifts, which basically means doubling the capacity of schools over night."

The superintendent said he doesn't see this happening to Loudoun County, but it is a reality of what could happen without proper funding.

SCHOOL BOARD member John Andrews (Potomac) was disappointed with staff recommendations because enrollment projections anticipate overcrowding in the future.

"We have an opportunity to create permanent boundaries. We are creating boundaries we know will fail," he said.

Ohneiser stressed the importance of creating permanent boundaries.

"Every time you shift kids around, you distract the parental loyalty to the school system and we depend on that," he said. "All that donated time goes to waste."

The School Board will adopt a Stone Hill Middle School attendance boundary Tuesday, April 25, at the Loudoun County Public Schools Administration Building, at 6:30 p.m.

The Department of Planning and Legislative Services prepares the annual Capital Improvements Program (CIP), develops student enrollment projections, conducts the school census, analyzes demographic information, maintains students mapping, plans school attendance boundaries and coordinates school site needs.