Alexandria City’s school board is mulling a decision to send about a dozen students to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the region’s governor’s school.
City school officials met June 6 to discuss paying Fairfax County Public Schools to allow students to attend TJ, which is run by FCPS, beginning in fall 2014. The city school board was expected to continue the discussions on Thursday.
Alexandria City’s decision to send students to the governor’s school could come down to costs.
During the past few years, regional districts have debated their continued participation in TJ. In 2010, Arlington County Public Schools debated severing ties with TJ, eliminating its 75 seats at the school. Arlington’s school board said ending the partnership would save the school district $500,000 during a tight budget year. Ultimately, Arlington stayed at TJ.
Similarly, Loudoun County’s school board earlier this year cited financial reasons as an issue in continuing its partnership with FCPS at TJ.
The school, which offers accelerated courses in science, technology, engineering and math, is scheduled to be renovated for $67.44 million, a price reduced from the original $90 million after competitive contract bidding. FCPS’s school board decided to share costs of renovations with districts participating in the TJ partnership: Fairfax and Falls Church cities, and Arlington, Loudoun and Prince William counties.
Loudoun County’s share would be $7.8 million, or $50,000 on average per student, beginning during the 2014-15 school year, according to an article by the Loudoun Times-Mirror. During the 2012-13 school year, Loudoun paid about $11,000 per student for the 157 students it sends to TJ.
Alexandria City school board members voiced concerns over the stability of participation at TJ.
“I just want you all to realize that these [cost] numbers are fine for right now. But let’s say that Arlington reduces the number of kids they’re sending, or let’s say Falls Church reduces the number of kids they’re sending?” school board member Patricia Ann Hennig (Alexandria’s District C) said. “Fairfax evens up and puts the additional money that they’ve lost on top of what the current people are paying. So we are in danger — if someone pulls out or someone changes the number of kids they have in there — of [it] taking up more money.”
A majority of seats at TJ go to FCPS students. About 20 percent of seats are shared by other jurisdictions.
FCPS has set a deadline of June 28 for other districts to confirm participation at TJ for the 2014-15 school year. Alexandria City officials said they would ask for an extension to allow for public feedback on entering a partnership with FCPS.
“The offer is made every year to Alexandria City and this is the first year they’ve seriously expressed an interest,” said FCPS spokesman John Torre.
FCPS students could lose or gain seats at TJ if other districts opt out of the partnership.
“It is an academically based admittance process. Expanding the potential pool of applicants could mean fewer students from Fairfax or the other participating divisions ... but not necessarily,” Torre said. “It would still be the top 480 [applicants].”
Students applying to TJ are assessed based on their GPAs, a math test, essays and teacher recommendations.