Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Issues Behind Boundary Discussions

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Issues Behind Boundary Discussions

In response to Mr. Spiegel’s letter [“Postpone Boundary Vote,” July 25], there is a great deal of misinformation circulating in the community regarding the School Board’s ongoing discussions around the boundary policy (Policy 8130).

The School Board has both a legislative and a governance responsibility to review its own policies. We began discussions regarding our boundary policy in 2018. The School Board work session on Monday, July 22, was the fourth meeting (Oct. 15, 2018, Feb. 25, 2019, and March 11, 2019 ) the board held to discuss the policy. All of the meetings have been advertised and open to the public. The review of the boundary policy was initiated because of the following issues:

  • Overcrowding at several schools,

  • The reliance on trailers (over 750),

  • Planned growth in specific areas of the county,

  • The demand for additional pre-k classrooms,

  • Recognition that the current level of bond funding is not sufficient to address capacity demands, renovations (currently a 37-year cycle) and major maintenance in a timely manner.

The current boundary policy has not had a comprehensive review since its 1986 adoption. The county and the school system were significantly smaller at that time. A modification that allowed a single board member and the superintendent to make changes impacting 5% or less of a school annually was introduced in 2000 and an expedited process was included in the regulation in October 2015. The superintendent stopped that less than transparent approach a year ago.

At the July 22 meeting, FCPS staff presented a draft policy in which “capacity surplus or deficit of an existing school” was listed as a reason to revise school boundaries. The draft policy does not recommend moving students outside of their communities to “balance respective districts with regard to racial and socioeconomic criteria” as Mr. Spiegel suggests in his letter. The One Fairfax Policy, adopted in 2017, commits the county and school district to intentionally consider equity when delivering policies, programs, and services. The existing and proposed boundary policy includes the consideration of criteria such as walking and busing routes, travel times, and socio-economics. FCPS provides transportation services for 139,000 eligible students every day to and from their neighborhood schools or to special programs away from their base schools. While the majority (76%) of the bus routes in FCPS allow students to spend less than 30 minutes in transit each way, the increased roadway congestion and length of bus rides continue to concern the School Board.

The board requested that the superintendent hire an outside consultant to work with the board to identify best practices in boundary policy and engage the community in the discussion. The board also requested of the superintendent to identify “hot” areas that are not included in the current FCPS Capital Improvement Program but may need a boundary adjustment.

The School Board understands the sensitivity of discussing boundary policy and is committed to continuing our work in a transparent manner which involves the community. In the event that specific proposals for changing school boundaries are considered, they will continue to be done in a transparent manner that includes community engagement. It should be noted that scoping for Glen Forest Elementary School was approved by the board in January 2019. The magisterial member and school staff have begun to work with the community on the scoping.

I hope that this letter will put to rest false rumors that are creating unnecessary anxiety among residents and homeowners of Fairfax County.

Karen Corbett Sanders

Chair, Fairfax County School Board

Mount Vernon District Representative