Fairfax County This year, Fairfax County Public Schools experienced one of the smallest annual enrollment increases in nearly a decade: 1,368 students, compared to the average of 2,400 since the 2008-09 school year, bringing the total to 187,202.
By far the lowest was a growth of only 223 in the 2015-16 school year.
Interim FCPS Superintendent Dr. Steven Lockard attributed the slowed growth to decreases in those entering kindergarten cohorts and net migration. The five-year forecast of enrollment growth, he said in an introduction to the latest Capital Improvement Program information document, has FCPS reaching 190,600 students by the 2021-22 school year.
“These new trends of growth are inconsistent across the county and continue to present a facilities capacity challenge,” Lockard said. “The school system struggles to provide sufficient capacity in our schools. Despite the planned additional capacity intended to address projected needs, uneven membership growth throughout the county will necessitate the continuation of small- and large-scale boundary adjustments to take advantage of available capacity whenever it is practicable to do so.”
The FCPS School Board unanimously approved a new Capital Improvement Program covering FY2018-2022 at the business meeting Jan. 26. The five-year program is updated annually with enrollment projections and capacity calculations, and lays out plans for new construction, renovations and other capacity-increasing work to accommodate the growing student body.
“It has evolved over the past several years and become very responsive to input from the school board and from the community,” said Mount Vernon District representative to the board Karen Corbett Sanders. “It’s a great tool for identifying both the opportunities to better serve our students through facilities but also to set a framework on when we need to start talking about how to best provide capacity and programming at each of our schools.”
The capacity enhancements in this latest approved CIP include construction of new schools, additions to existing schools and other renovations, with a total price tag of $824 million.
FCPS said a little less than half of that, $385 million, will be covered by funds approved in the 2015 school bond referendum and previous referenda, and the remaining $439 million is currently unfunded.
Some of the projects already funded by that first figure include a new elementary school in the Route 1 area and additions to South Lakes High School in Reston.
Unfunded projects in the program include a new elementary school in northwest Fairfax County, another in the Fairfax-Oakton area, a high school in western Fairfax County and additions to three other high schools.
The new high school is intended to bring down capacity stress in the Centreville, Chantilly, Herndon, Oakton, South Lakes and Westfield areas.
Renovations are planned for 32 elementary schools as part of the CIP, as well as five middle schools.
Springfield District School Board representative Elizabeth Schultz praised the FCPS facilities staff that produced the CIP, along with Dalia Palchik of Providence District who introduced the motion to approve it, and Corbett Sanders who seconded the motion.
But Schultz also said there’s room for improvement with showing their work over time, looking back in two to three years and assessing the accuracy of these enrollment growth projections.
“That’s the space where we still need to do some work for the overall health of the division,” Schultz said.
“Everything else after the numbers, whether it’s desks, books, buses, teachers — it doesn’t matter if we don’t get those numbers right,” Schultz continued. “It all stems from how accurate we are with our projections.”
Schultz said she looked forward to working with facilities staff to achieve that objective and “improve transparency of the numbers.”
In the next two months, the adopted FCPS CIP should be incorporated into the Fairfax County CIP and presented to the county’s Planning Commission.
More information about the Capital Improvement Program (and previous years’ programs) is available online here: www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/facilities-planning-future/capital-improvement-program.