The number of trailers in use at Fairfax County schools - more than 900 across the county - belies the fact that the school district does have more seats available than students.
In Fairfax County, 40 schools are at least 5 percent over capacity while other schools have classroom space to spare. More than 60 schools are at least 10 percent underenrolled.
School facilities staff provided suggested boundary adjustments to the School Board Wednesday in an effort to address the discrepancy in enrollments. The recommendations are preliminary, and represent the school system’s effort to get ahead of the notoriously thorny issue of boundary changes between schools, Kevin Sneed, the school system’s director of design and construction services, told the School Board.
“For us to just throw boundary suggestions out there is difficult, but we also know there are schools where we have problems,” Sneed said. “We need to acknowledge that so we can start planning for it.”
Enrollment projections in the school system’s Capital Improvement Program, the construction and renovation plan for the next five years, showed that the current capacity problems at schools across the county will continue to worsen in coming years, as the student population continues to climb.
The School Board plans to continue to work with school staff to find solutions, whether those come in the form of new school buildings or school boundary changes to provide relief to overcrowded schools.
School Board member Kathy Smith (Sully) noted that boundary changes do not necessarily need to shift neighborhoods from one school to another, but could also focus on targeting specific schools to house programs such as advanced academic centers. Several such programmatic alterations are included in the recommendations made by the facilities staff.
“I believe we have a responsibility to use as many seats as we have,” Smith said.
One particular problem area is the Richmond Highway corridor, which features five elementary schools more than 5 percent over capacity, a number expected to grow to nine in the next five years. Facilities staff recommends dispersing some of these students to other schools in the region.
Still, with all the recommendations, Sneed advises members of the School Board and the community to look at boundary discussions as one step in a larger conversation on school construction and renovation.
“Not all of these will work as they are now,” Sneed said. “But we need people to start understanding that we need to do something.”
These recommendations are meant to put certain schools and areas on the county on school officials’ radar moving forward.
“These are really the areas that we need to keep monitoring,” said Jeff Platenberg, the assistant superintendent of facilities and transportation services.
Sneed wants to keep working with staff to expand and refine the list of recommended changes before the school system starts working on its next Capital Improvement Program this summer, so communities can have a better idea of whether they will be targeted for boundary shifts.
“We want to start to forewarn certain communities that the only solution might be to do it this way,” Sneed said. “We need to keep the general public informed so we can make good decisions.”