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Votes

Price of Education

Over the next six years, Loudoun County Public Schools is looking to construct 21 new schools, including 12 elementary, four middle and four high schools as well as an advanced technology academy. During that same six-year period, officials anticipate the enrollment to jump from the 54,047 students reported in September to 76,794 by the 2013-14 school year.

To keep pace with the projected enrollment, Schools Superintendent Edgar Hatrick presented a fiscal year 2009-14 Capital Improvement Program, Nov. 13, that seeks $208,620,000 in FY ’09 then fluctuates from $99,750,000 — its lowest in FY ’12 — to $273,030,000 its highest in FY ’13.

In total, the school system is anticipating a CIP that costs $1,309,895,000 for land acquisition and construction, which includes $301,715,000 worth of projects that have already been approved such as Creighton’s Corner, Liberty and Steuart W. Weller elementary schools, which are slated to open during fiscal year 2008-09.

"We are right at the $215 million [debt cap] level for the first three years of the CIP," Hatrick said. "We looked really hard at the costs of projects."

THE GROWING CIP reflects a growing county, Sam Adamo, director of Department of Planning and Legislative Services, said, while adding that he believed the school system was not being "overly ambitious" with its projections.

"Loudoun continues to grow vigorously. …. Helping to fuel enrollment growth, we have a birth rates here over 50 percent. … Jobs tend to attract younger people on a per capita basis," Adamo said. "We do not look like the rest of Virginia."

Hatrick said the priority for the school system was land acquisition and the CIP budgets $26,300,000 in FY ’09 for five elementary schools projected to open between the 2011-12 to 2014-15 school years.

"You know over the past two years what a significant issue land acquisition has become. Getting enough school sites is the first hurdle we have to overcome," Hatrick said. "When we are out looking for school sites, we are in most ways another developer. We have to pay market price for a site. We have to go through the same legislative process with the county that any developer would have to go through."

The school system has three proffered sites, sites dedicated to the school system by developers to offset the developments’ impact, left in the inventory that do not have funded projects. Since 2000, the school system has purchased several properties for schools.

The five properties anticipated to be purchased during FY ’09 include three sites in the Ashburn/Dulles area, one in Leesburg and one in western Loudoun.

Fiscal year 2009 spending, if approved, also includes construction of three elementary schools — located in the Leesburg area, a two-story building in Moorefield Station in the Briar Woods cluster and in Seven Hills in the Freedom cluster — and a high school, in the Ashburn/Dulles area. The elementary schools are expected to open in the 2010-11 school year and the high school a year later.

HATRICK ALSO SAID the school system has been trying to incorporate "green" or environmental friendly building practices to increase energy savings. These measures, he said, have upfront costs, but in the long run results in saving money.

Another goal, he said, is to build schools that will last 25-30 years without needing to be renovated.

"We can take shortcuts," he said. "Ten years from now, we’ll have to pay for those and we will still be building schools 10 years from now."

Hatrick said the school system is already behind in the delivery of schools, citing the already overcrowded conditions at Stone Bridge, which opened in 2000, as an example. The Ashburn school has a capacity of 1,618 students and September enrollment figures show 1,709 students attending the school. At the current pace, by 2013-14, the school is expected to have an enrollment of 2,526 students.

Despite the school system’s growing numbers, School Board members seemed concerned with the estimated price tag, especially given the bleak real estate revenue projections. Some ideas suggested by board members including readjusting school boundaries to alleviate overcrowding, looking to lease existing vacant commercial space and having the future Monroe technical school also serve as a home school, like a magnet or academy program.

"It looks like we have about a $100 million [county] budget shortfall at the current tax rate," said Joseph Guzman (Sugarland Run). "We have to look at efficiencies."