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FairfaxEducationMCA voices alarm over future school crowding

MCA voices alarm over future school crowding

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Some McLean-area schools may become even more overcrowded because of Tysons developments and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) should use a variety of tools to offset those impacts, according to a McLean Citizens Association (MCA) report presented Nov. 2.

FCPS officials each year make five-year school-enrollment projections based on birth rates and the number of people expected to move in and out of Fairfax County or transfer from one county school area to another.

But the report by MCA’s Education & Youth Committee, which also factored in developers’ proffers to offset public-services impacts, predicted some local schools capacity might be strained even further.

“The Tysons Corner area, we think, is a different animal,” said committee chairman James Beggs. “There’s a tremendous amount of development going on.”

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FCPS can address over-capacity via boundary changes and capital improvements such as renovating and expanding school or adding modular classrooms. But sought-after programs – language-immersion, advanced academics, pre-kindergarten, etc. – at some schools but not others also complicates calculations, Beggs said.

“It does create a conundrum for FCPS to deal with, but notwithstanding, they’ve got to figure it out,” he said.

Committee members did the analysis out of concern about overcrowding at McLean High School. The latest report updated an analysis the committee did last year and included current and projected enrollment, as well as capacity, of schools in the Langley, McLean, James Madison and George C. Marshall high-school pyramids.

One side of the report’s chart featured enrollment projections under the school system’s five-year capital-improvement plan (CIP); the other side included the committee’s proffer-based analysis, which included developments that are approved, under construction or built but not yet fully leased.

“The proffer forecast is open-ended,” Beggs said. “Nobody knows exactly when an approved project is actually going to have people leasing it.”
The committee’s did not include pending projects awaiting county approval, which could drive enrollment numbers even higher.

The school system’s analyses account for negative enrollment factors, such as declining birthrates and families sending their children to private schools instead, but MCA’s figures do not, Beggs said.

Of particular concern to the Education & Youth Committee were:

• McLean High and Longfellow Middle schools, which MCA’s analysis showed would be getting significantly more students over the next five years. FCPS predicts a 1-percent decrease at McLean High and virtually no change at Longfellow Middle, but MCA has forecast increases of 17 to 19 percent and 16 to 19 percent, respectively.

• Kent Gardens Elementary, which is 121 percent of capacity. Parent discontent there has boosted the Education & Youth Committee’s membership by one-third, Beggs said.

Kent Gardens’ French-immersion program and Advanced Placement curricula also draw students from outside its boundaries, he said.

The school is addressing its capacity problem by using 11 classroom trailers. This compared with 14 trailers that formerly were used at overcrowded, and more than twice as large, McLean High before the school received modular classrooms, Beggs said.

• Spring Hill Elementary, where FCPS officials’ five-year projection estimates 967 students (101 percent of capacity), which is up 14 percent from the school’s current population. MCA’s analysis, however, predicted an increase of 474 to 582 students, or 35 to 46 percent more than capacity.

“All the development we’re seeing in Tysons that feeds Spring Hill is showing a significant increase,” said Beggs, who added that those enrollment impacts later would be felt by Langley and McLean high schools and their associated middle schools.

• Westbriar and Westgate elementary schools, which feed into Kilmer Middle and Marshall High schools. MCA leaders earlier asked School Board members Elaine Tholen (Dranesville District) and Karl Frisch to consider boundary changes or earlier capital renovations and expansions for those elementaries, Beggs said.

The amount of space per student varies widely by school, Beggs said. Among elementary schools in the McLean, Langley and Marshall pyramids, Kent Gardens and Westbriar had the least square footage per student (92 and 94, respectively) while Franklin Sherman was tops at 157.

At the middle-school level, Cooper had 106 square feet per student, Longfellow 118 and Kilmer 194. Among the high schools, McLean and Marshall (including their modular classrooms) had 149 and 171 square feet per student, respectively, while Langley had 146.

The Education & Youth Committee also intends to do more research on problems with classroom trailers, such as mold issues, security concerns and high noise levels for ones near recess areas, which could disrupt learning.

“It is not uncommon for school to have trailers even if they’re under capacity,” he said.

MCA board member Hilde Kahn asked about the impact of the future Dunn Loring Elementary School and requested that the committee add pending developments to its calculations.

Beggs said the committee this March submitted a resolution opposing the future Dunn Loring facility, saying it was not an efficient allocation of capital.

As for pending developments, Beggs was open to adding those figures to the committee’s projections, but said this only would make the situation appear even more dire.

“We thought this was alarming enough the way it was,” Beggs said.

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