School Board member Ryan McElveen (At-large) issued a call to action last week saying school facility concerns are in a state of crisis and are a problem impacting every student, teacher and resident in the county.
“… Now is the time to act. It is time for the Board of Supervisors to have the political courage to stand up for the driving force of our local economy, our great--if crumbling—schools,” said McElveen, before calling for a vote to request an increase in annual school construction funding from $155 million to $180 million, effective fiscal 2015.
The School Board unanimously approved the request Jan. 24. Fairfax County Public Schools construction funding comes from voter-approved general obligation bonds. The authority to issue and allocate bonds falls to the county’s Board of Supervisors. A similar request by the School Board for additional funding was rejected last year.
“Our community, those in the audience, should take this as a call to action,” said McElveen last week. “If your children are sitting in trailers, call your supervisor. If your children don’t have adequate access to bathrooms –I’m looking at you Haycock [Elementary School], call your supervisor. And if your students have to sit on the floor to eat at lunch because they can’t fit in the cafeteria, call your supervisor. Tell them to approve the $25 million in [additional] bond funding for our school system.”
Fellow School Board member Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill District) agreed with the tone of McElveen’s call, saying, “This is probably the most important thing we’ll do about the CIP tonight …This is a major issue for us along the Silver Line (metro rail, which is currently under construction).”
The last FCPS bond amount increase was six years ago, when the Board of Supervisors approved a jump from $125 million to $155 million.
“We will not get more help unless we ask for it,” said long-time School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District), one of the few School Board members who served on the panel the last time the bond was increased. She said new developments in the Tysons Corner area, which promises to bring more jobs and residents to the county, will further restrict the school system’s ability to address aging school needs.
“We simply do not have enough schools or classrooms to provide for what we see on the ground,” Strauss said.
Without adding to capacity, Strauss said the community can expect to see greater frequency of boundary shifts.
“We still have low construction rates right now. This is the time for us to take advantage of those low construction rates,” School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District) said, adding that aging schools like Falls Church High School can’t wait until 2024 to be renovated.
While School Board members voted unanimously to request additional funding, several School Board members voiced concern that the Board of Supervisors would again reject additional funding in the face of a tough budget year.
The request for added funds to address construction and capacity needs fell in the wake of a Jan. 24 vote to approve the school systems Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2014-18. This five-year plan includes renovation and capacity enhancements totaling $871.2 million. The plan includes money for three new elementary schools for eastern Fairfax County, the Richmond Highway corridor and western Fairfax County, as well as a new high school for southwestern Fairfax County. An addition to South Lakes High School is also a highlight of the CIP.
Three School Board members voted against the CIP saying it did not fully identify and address the needs of schools facing capacity issues.
“I feel like this document tells us there is a crisis,” School Board member Patty Reed (Providence District) said. “We have to fundamentally change the way we manage our buildings as well as how we do our enrollment projections.”
Reed said the CIP, which is approved and amended every year to address enrollment growth, shows no stability in projected student increases. She and School Board members Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District) and Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District) expressed concerns over the cohesiveness of the CIP year-to-year.
“We are basing so many decisions on this document,” Reed said. “I have to vote no and it’s a vote of no confidence,” she said.