In the first meeting of the new school year, the hot topic of conversation for the South County Federation was the impending boundary study at South County Secondary School.
School Board members Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), Cathy Belter (Springfield) and Janet Oleszek (At-large) took turns reassuring members of the group that now is the time to make their concerns heard.
Redrawing the boundaries for the school may be necessary because of errors made by the Fairfax County School system in making enrollment projections, Storck said during the Federation’s meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 12.
“We saw this overcrowding coming over a year ago. We knew the enrollment projection process was flawed because it happened before at Hayfield and Westfield,” Storck said.
With the school now 500 students over capacity, Storck said, the School Board hired a consultant to examine the enrollment methodology used to determine enrollment [see related story, page 3] to see where changes can be made to avoid this situation from happening again.
Now that the boundary process is about to begin — the first public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at South County Secondary — Storck said the suggestions of parents will be in high demand.
“There has to be a way for people who could contribute to the way decisions are made and the methods used can make comments,” he said. “We need a process to make sure we get a result the community can have confidence in. Whether the results are ones we can agree with or not, we want to be confident that they are as accurate as possible.”
Storck said he was uncertain, however, how much of the consultant’s work would be available and ready to use for the upcoming boundary study.
“One of the major reasons we hired him was to make sure we had good numbers to work with for this study,” he said.
Belter said she agreed with Storck, adding that a transportation study also underway may also have significant impact on schools in the near future.
“We didn’t think about the transportation issue for a few years until we realized that we had to do something about it,” Belter said. The transportation study is looking at the school’s bus system to determine if it would be possible, and cost effective, to provide later start times for high school students, who currently begin classes at 7:20 a.m. county-wide.
Oleszek admitted that the biggest contributor to the overcrowding at South County were the errors made by the school staff and board.
FOR MOST School Board decisions made regarding South County, Oleszek said she has followed Storck’s lead, voting to support his motions.
“This is a huge problem and we care about it deeply,” she said of the overcrowding concerns. “It is with your skill and knowledge that we’ll make the right decision, but only if you participate,” she told members of the Federation Tuesday night.
But it takes seven board members to get a motion passed, so parents and concerned residents will have to go beyond their own representative to get their wishes heard.
Christine Morin, the education committee chair for the Federation, asked if the board members have an understanding of the frustration and anger felt by South County parents or if they were too detached to the issue because it wasn’t in their backyards.
“I don’t think you have to tell any board member how difficult boundary studies are,” Oleszek said.
Storck agreed, adding that the parents at South County are not passive or timid in making their concerns heard.
“They may have their own community meetings they’re focused on, and sometimes their own feelings may conflict with the goals and objectives at South County,” he said. “But we don’t expect 100 percent support for any solution that could be brought to us.”
Both Storck and Oleszek said that they still believed the South County area needs a middle school, something school planners say may never be required if the population at South County is spread out among that school, Hayfield and Lake Braddock.
“That’s the only option that makes sense for everyone,” Storck said. “That’s truly what I’m committed to and I know (Supervisor) Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) is too.”
Rob Robertory, a Federation member, asked if the School Board would consider building the middle school if parents were able to produce “a bag full of money like we did for South County.”
Oleszek said that if the money were available, they would build the school as soon as possible.
“You need a middle school out here, there’s no question in my mind about that,” she said.