By John Flannery
Loudoun County is poised to close four community schools to save what the Board of Supervisors spent on the Redskins – $2 million.
The Board calls this “budgeting.”
I call it government mismanagement, preferring games over grades and fail the board for its gross mishandling of a core governmental function, how we rightly educate our children.
In 2012, our football sycophantic Board of Supervisors promised to pay Danny “Redskin” Snyder $2 million to sell Loudoun as the home of the Redskins; in the bargain, the county got game tickets and a classy suite like political big shots crave to watch pro ball games.
(Not to be too much of a buzz kill, but don’t the Redskins now rehearse their winning team form in Richmond, and not Ashburn?)
Now the School Board is considering closing four elementary community schools in Aldie, Hamilton, Hillsboro and Lincoln, the oldest of these founded in 1840 and the newest in 1922, because these closures will save the county $2 million of a school budget shortfall of $38 million, because the proposed budget was irresponsibly shrunken by the board, making these misguided cuts by our School Board “necessary.”
Outgoing School Superintendent Ed Hatrick, to his credit, fired away, rightly charging in the most forceful language that this board has created an “artificial crisis,” as 2,000 more students enter our countywide school system, and “willfully chosen not to listen to the public, not to listen to the School Board about the funding that is needed for next year for this school system.”
We know politicians talk out the side of their mouth, promising our kids good schools, but it’s especially vile when they double cross children and trash their community schools.
The “offense” these four schools share is that they don’t conform with the one size fits all large schools that are the modern model. They are distinct, small, in rural areas, with a tradition of historic continuity, in a somewhat disposable society, yet cheaper in several cases than the county average cost per pupil.
They teach our children well, enforce good and honest behavior, enjoy heavy involvement by the parents, are close to the rural communities, indeed physically closer to the towns where the children live, with parents who went to these same schools, as did their parents, siblings and friends, going back years, to the 1840s in the case of Hillsboro.
Many of us are located in western Loudoun because this traditional close-knit, long-lasting community was what we wanted for our families.
There have been communities started anew in Loudoun, especially in the east, and, in those cases, the inhabitants get to create a community.
But that’s not what’s happening at these four schools in western Loudoun, and all the families are asking is that the rest of the county respect what they’ve built over the decades and the fact that it works for their children.
My daughter, Diana, attended Lincoln Elementary School. The town of Lincoln is special, settled in 1741. The Janney family is an honorable historic family and has been a wonderful vitalizing influence in Lincoln and the county. I know best therefore what the Lincoln school is about, of its fine teachers, and how its served the community.
It’s most like an extended family. Funny, how we have politicians who mouth the words, “family values,” as the effective prescription for what ails the ills of modern culture, until we’re sick of hearing it, especially when we have a case like this when we can judge by their cold heart that what they say is just so much hot air.
The students themselves at Lincoln know better, and have made posters protesting that the county save their school.
They will never forget what this government is doing. Nor will they forgive when they consider this chapter in their life should the schools be closed. The streets of Lincoln are lined with posters, some printed, many hand made, “Save Our Kids,” another, “Vote for Schools.” You may have seen them. They are in all four neighborhoods. There’s a petition on the door of the Lincoln Post Office, to “help keep Lincoln Elementary School Open.”
Imagine what the parents thought, what you would think, when receiving a notice in the mail that read, “the Loudoun County School Board is considering the closing of Aldie, Hamilton, Hillsboro and Lincoln Elementary Schools.”
If that is not a chilling note for student and parent alike, the next sentence in the language of the cold-hearted bureaucrat surely was, “the closing of these elementary schools would require attendance zone adjustments.”
I’ll tell you the adjustments we need, and that we can make, it is to succeed this board, all of them, with elected officials who “get it,” and not just a community’s historical connection to a school, but that people matter, children matter and that they can’t dictate what they’re going to do to our children this way.
I’ve sat back watching these bad decisions, one after another, but if this one goes through, closing these schools, we have to re-consider how we elect a new board that knows what’s important. Among those concerns are our children and their education, and a long way down the list, I’d ascribe an imaginary number in importance is anything have to do with a suite at a Redskins game.
Loudoun CountyCommentary: What are your retirement dreams?
Working in the home care for seniors industry, I see a lot of people who have nothing to do all day and feel their life has no meaning anymore. Going to the dentist becomes an activity, something to do for the day.
This is not what I dream about when I dream about retirement. I dream about buying a villa in Italy or Spain, with a view of the ocean and sipping wine while I prepare spectacular meals. OK, that’s probably not going to happen.
When I let myself think about that dream I start to think “who am I cooking for?” I guess I can make new friends there. But, then, what else am I doing with my days? Is that enough to really keep me happy day after day? Who are these new friends I will be making? Are they also retired ex-pats? Probably, I don’t speak Spanish or Italian.
OK, when I get realistic, I see that I what I really need is to redefine retirement. Why do we have a “retirement age”? I can understand it if you have a physically demanding job. A 65- year-old body just can’t keep up with the demands of some jobs. But then what? You just stop? You just play golf all day? I know too many people that retired and loved it for a couple of years. Some didn’t even make it that long. Then, the mind-numbing boredom sets in. Then, even more things start to go wrong with your mind and your body. You can’t keep your mind sharp only playing golf and Sudoku.
I know I’m far from the only person thinking about re-defining retirement. A quick scan of the Internet brings up dozens of articles every day. Most of the articles I have looked at suggest part-time jobs like working in retail. Seriously, I can’t stand long enough to work retail anymore like I did at 16.
I’ve also seen most of the articles suggest consulting. That sounds easy, doesn’t it? Just consult to companies in your area of expertise. Has anyone been to a chamber event lately? Consulting is the easy part. Finding people to consult to, that’s a little harder. So, I guess consulting would work if I didn’t really need the money, or, didn’t really need too many people to consult to.
We need something in between, something where we can work and feel valued, but doesn’t kill us, a slower-paced work life. It’s time for companies to get serious about re-defining not just retirement, but our entire work life. We should be able to keep working as long as we want to keep living.
Toni Reinhart is president of Comfort Keepers. She has served as a caregiver, business owner and volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and other senior-related organizations.
Loudoun CountyA few suggestion for the School Board
Sometimes it’s necessary to think outside the box, and this is one of those times. Leaving emotion aside and dealing only with cold, hard facts, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions which might be helpful.
1. Closing two schools (Aldie and Lincoln) where the per-pupil cost appears to be less than the county average seems to me to be financially unwise. Why would the School Board close two cost-effective schools to send those particular students to schools where they will cost more to educate?
Suggestion: Instead of closing these two schools, the School Board should be studying them to see what they are doing right – why they are costing less but producing excellent results – and then applying the lessons learned from them to the other schools.
2. It is clear from looking at the maps and attendance figures that Kenneth W. Culbert Elementary should never have been built. There simply aren’t currently enough students in that portion of the county to warrant having schools at Hamilton and Hillsboro, plus Mountain View and Culbert.
1. Close Culbert and redraw the catchment areas for the remaining schools. As it is now, for example, children from Creamer Lane and that area (the south side of Route 9 northwest of Hillsboro) are passing right by Hillsboro Elementary and going five miles further to Mountain View. This makes sense only if you’re trying to justify building a new building (which is exactly what past School Boards did). Send these children back to Hillsboro; make other adjustments in the Mountain View and former Culbert attendance boundaries to send the children now attending Culbert to Hamilton, Hillsboro, Lincoln or Mountain View, thus more realistically reflecting where the children actually live.
2. Repurpose Culbert. The county wants to create its own version of Fairfax’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. It’s a good idea, and it can be done immediately, saving the well over $2,000,000 each year in tuition that Loudoun pays to Fairfax. Certain changes would have to be made to Culbert. For example, child-size toilets and sinks would have to be replaced and adult-size furniture would be required for the teenage students, but these costs possibly could come from the capital budget, not the operating budget and be relatively minimal.
While it may be desirable for Loudoun’s “TJ” to be in a more central location, repurposing Culbert would permit getting the school up and operational immediately while a permanent site was selected and a new school built. (At least the children would have a reverse commute instead of the long trek to Fairfax in rush hour traffic!)
Once the new school is built, convert Culbert to the Arts and Theater academy which some parents have recently suggested the county needs.
That would eventually give the county three specialty high schools: Arts and Music in western Loudoun, C.S. Monroe Technology Center in Leesburg and Loudoun’s new “TJ” at the new site.
Once you stop thinking within the box and focusing on closing small schools, I think you will agree that this entire affair presents an excellent opportunity to move forward with something really exciting – an opportunity to, in essence, have our educational cake and eat it too.
AldieDon’t take away our choices for schools
Freedom is one of the founding principles of our nation and something I think most of us can agree is valuable. I am thankful that our county has given families the freedom to make choices about the type of school they want for their children. I am hopeful that our School Board will see the wisdom of continuing to provide these choices to the families of Loudoun and not close the small schools serving the western part of our county.
My three children attend Aldie Elementary. We are not zoned to Aldie but attend based on the special permission program set up by the county. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am for this program. It provides me the opportunity to send my children to a school that meets my family’s needs. This program is open to all parents in Loudoun County. That being said, doing a special permission is not always easy. The commitment to provide transportation to and from school can be expensive and time consuming, but as a parent I am thankful to have the freedom to choose the school environment I want for my children.
I hope that school board will realize that one size does not fit all. One of the biggest strengths of Loudoun is that historically in this county it hasn’t had to. Please don’t take away our choices and give families options for what type of school they want for their children.
PurcellvilleDon’t consider community schools as a group
The LCPS Board has proposed the closure of four elementary schools which have been lumped together as “small western Loudoun elementary schools.” It is inequitable to consider these schools as a group, and each school should be considered separately. There are multiple reasons why Aldie Elementary should not be closed, but rather, expanded.
First and foremost, the average cost per pupil at Aldie Elementary, $11,090, is below the LCPS average pupil cost of $11,638. Accordingly, an Aldie Elementary student is not costing taxpayers any more money than any other Loudoun student. Second, Aldie Elementary is located in suburban southern Loudoun with a significant amount of new home development. The school is almost at capacity with 131 students and is projected to have 141 students in 2014-2015. If Aldie Elementary’s students are rezoned to other Aldie area elementary schools, e.g. Buffalo Trail and Arcola, those schools will quickly become overcrowded. This will, in turn, require the construction of ES-28 at a much earlier date than otherwise projected costing the county more than $40 million. Why require such an enormous expenditure earlier than necessary when the county can leverage an already fully paid for asset? Why take away student seats in the rapidly growing Dulles South district? Aldie Elementary supporters have submitted a proposal for the expansion of Aldie Elementary. No additional land would need to be purchased to expand Aldie Elementary. It simply does not make any sense to take away student seats when more are needed in the Aldie area.
Bill Fox (Leesburg) recently stated, “The one thing I wish we would stop doing is grouping all of the small schools together because they’re not the same.” He further noted that Aldie Elementary is located in a part of the county that is experiencing growth. It is for this reason and the others stated above that the LCPS Board should refrain from considering all four small schools as a group and remove Aldie Elementary from the budget cut list.
Karen A. Kovacs
Loudoun County‘No’ to debt and closings Uninsured harms Virginia COMMUNITY VOICE: Emotions, not facts, drive budget ‘circus’ Guest Opinion: You pay taxes – Why doesn’t General Electric? Delegate Greason’s email is dismaying Determined to save historic, rural schools Veterans, real estate taxes and Virginia Aldie School is heart of community Dr. Claude Moore’s legacy serves Loudoun every day COMMUNITY VOICE: “Fully Fund” has no real meaning
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