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    Communities outraged by possible Loudoun school closings

    With more than $38 million to make up in budget reconciliation, the Loudoun County School Board reluctantly has been trying to find ways to cut spending for fiscal 2015.

    One of the items on the cut list assembled by the board at this time is the closure of four historic elementary schools in western Loudoun.

    Aldie, Hillsboro, Hamilton and Lincoln Elementary Schools have been proposed to be closed.

    Should they be closed, it would save $2 million toward the fiscal 2015 budget.

    Jim Burton, a former member of the Board of Supervisors and longtime Aldie resident, said the communities have been outraged at the possible closure of the four small schools.

    “This has been brought up many times in the past and it is really a shame the majority of School Board members don't seem to understand what these schools mean to local communities,” Burton said. “Some of the board members claim these schools are inefficient yet not a single School Board member can define efficiency in a school system. In this case I think they are arguing against these small schools because they have small teacher to pupil ratios.

    “They argue they want for the entire school system, but yet they turn around and want to punish those schools that have lower teacher-to-pupil ratios. It doesn't make sense,” Burton said.

    According to LCPS staff, the four schools have a wide range in cost per pupil.

    On average, it costs $11,638 to educate a student in Loudoun.

    Aldie Elementary School at 131 students and Lincoln Elementary School with 135 students both require less than the county average to educate their students.
    Aldie has a cost-per-pupil of $11,090 and Lincoln has a cost-per-pupil of $10,099.

    Both Hamilton with 165 students and Hillsboro with 62 students have costs per pupil above the county average at $12,470 and $19,040, respectively.

    Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) asked LCPS staff to find out how much would be potentially saved through the re-purposing of computers and other equipment through the closing of the four schools. Hornberger specifically wanted to know how this could affect the county's current computer refresh effort as well as other equipment.

    According to staff, the total number of instructional and administrative computers to be re-purposed from the closing schools would be 177 and 60, respectively.

    An additional cost savings would be obtained from the fiscal 2015 budget of approximately $82,740 due to not performing a computer refresh in the closing schools.

    If any or all of the schools are closed, affected students would be reassigned to neighboring schools and a new boundary process would begin later this month or early May.

    “A lot of these rural kids already spend long bus rides to get to school,” Burton said. “To close these schools and ship them east would add to the length of the bus rides for the children who live west of Route 15. It is unconscionable.”

    Middleburg Elementary, another small school that has been on the chopping block in past years, developed a charter school application that was approved last month. Hillsboro Elementary has been rumored to be developing an application for their small school as well.

    The Loudoun County School Board will hold a public hearing and work session addressing the closing of the four schools April 21. The hearing is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the School Administration Building in Ashburn.


    Comments

    Here is the missing piece on cost per pupil by school.  Schools do not usually have the ability to optimize for efficiency by this metric.  This is due in part to tenure, the desire to keep senior teachers (a good thing), and the fact that much is controlled from beyond the schoolhouse.  Hillsboro’s CPP is the perfect example.  Putting aside that the low enrollment has been artificially created by the school board to cover their building mistakes, any school can be seen poorly by this metric by simply loading it with senior teachers and staff.  Should such a school be closed?  Those same payroll expenses will be incurred elsewhere when the students and teachers are transferred. 

    IF we are to continue to judge these schools on this metric, there can be no justification for closing the other three which are under or near the district average and have loyal constituencies.  IF we are to continue to use this faulty method, consider first this:

    Middleburg had an enrollment of only 50 and the district claimed it cost an astounding $22,000 per pupil to operate.  Many used similar arguments to close them and said their students were fleeing to other schools (again largely due to the constant closure threat which is somewhat self-fulfilling.)  Now they are free through their new charter.  This charter provides that the district ONLY pays the average cost per pupil to the school, minus overhead and contracted services.  Middleburg needed a completely voluntary enrollment of greater than 50 to balance their books with their new model, a new model that provides only half of the previous CPP.  A model that allows – and this is KEY here – the charter to staff how they need to staff and purchase as they need to purchase. Their enrollment for next year is already so high that they are looking at a lottery for their opening year.

    Hillsboro is similarly pursuing a charter and is pioneering new and innovative educational options for Loudoun county students.  The books will and do balance for the new charter and the district will only be paying the average cost per pupil minus overhead and contracted services.  This allows freedom of choice.  The point here is that non-charter schools are not run in a way that allows us to meaningfully use a metric such as this.  Particularly with small enrollment numbers where plus or minus 10 students can swing the cost per pupil by $3,000 in each direction - $6,000 overall.  A charter will provide the freedom necessary to operate under this metric and make smart choices by those who know what is needed and what is not.

    Larger government can centralize services, but smaller government will always make smarter choices for their location.  Just as Loudoun County is better equipped to make a decision on a local traffic light than DC, so is a school better equipped to determine their staffing and purchasing needs than a swollen district.  Charters allow for the efficiency of shared services while returned the control and decision making power to the school.  This is the best of both worlds.  And these false and manufactured arguments will vanish.


    Shouldn’t Waterford Elementary be included in this discussion? How do they get a pass? Maybe its the amount of lawyers living in the Waterford district.


    I wonder:

    1. Does the school with 60 students (or is it 62? 65?) have a dedicated Principal or is this one of those locations that “shares” staff?

    2. How many FTEs are employed in this school?

    3. What is the debt service, per student, for this school? How about comparable figures for other schools in the LCPS?

    4. Does the “cost per student” that is cast about here and elsewhere include the total cost of business, inclusive of debt service? Where is that breakdwon, by school?

    5. There are lies, @#$% lies, and statistics. Those who would like to use their heads to ascertain the true cost of building, maintaining, and operating each buidling in the syetm would need access to this data to develop an informed decision. I am sceptical about much of the data tossed about on these blogs as “fact.”

    My sense tells me that debt service, alone, on the newer buidlings in the system is adding $2K-$3K to the cost per student, if they are operating at capacity, that does not appear to be included in the costs for those students. It is even more if those building are operating under capacity. How does that compare to per student costs at buildings that don’t contribute to the debt service?


    Use your heads, people.  How can a school with 60 students be cost effective given the enormous overhead?  Cafeteria, principal, etc.  I can make cost accounting number show anything I want but I’m sorry the tiny schools must go.  If LCPS is to have any creditability at all regarding budgets, they must take a baby step and start with an obvious inefficiency by closing these schools. If they don’t have the guts to do this, everything they say and do with respect to budgets is suspect.


    What the cost per pupil does not include are large costs that add up. Namely, debt service on new schools - tens of millions - and maintenance and transportation. Lincoln has nearly half its students walking or special permission (meaning their parents drive them) saving $700 per kid per year on average. The debt service on Culbert adds more than $2000 per kid…..the cost savings of Lincoln are adding up!


    Cowbell, surely you are aware that, assuming all members are present, it takes 5 votes to pass anything on a 9-member board. Each board member (whether on the Board of Supervisors or the School Board) is responsible only for his or her own vote, not for the votes of his or her colleagues. No matter how vigorously the minority may state their case and disagree, they still are the minority. Yes, you are absolutely correct that boards over the last roughly 23 years, starting about 1991, have approved one subdivision after another. But I seriously doubt if Mr. Burton, a well-known slow-growth advocate, voted for more than a handful, if any of them.


    I blame both the BOS and LCSB.  BOS has been negligent for approving way too many residential housing developments over the past 20 years.  HOWEVER, I have seen a precedent set over those years (with the general exception of the western end of the County) where new schools are built only to sit under capacity.  The four high schools in Loudoun were sufficient for years, and when they were no longer sufficient, trailers were used or better yet - those schooles were made bigger.  I’m not advocating this as a long-term fix, but it used to be rare that a new school was proposed.  Now they propose them all the time.  Yes, I realize it’s because they are approving way too many housing developments, but just like Loudoun’s citizens, we have to make due with what we have.  So let’s make due with what we have for a while, vote in some Supervisors who will push for economic growth through luring new businesses into the County and less residential housing developments, and vote in some School Board members who understand the meaning of using their budgetary money efficiently and effectively!!!


    YEs, we must rely upon the growth estimates of Adamo and the planning department who told us Culbert was absolutely necessary and HAD to be built to accommodate the growth they KNEW was on its way in western Loudoun.  Now this very same cast of characters tells us that “no, no more growth is coming in western Loudoun”.  No need to keep those paid for elementary seats.


    Only Western BOS to support sm. schools - Burton?


    The BOS always request 3 scenarios for setting the following year’s tax rate. The tax assessor comes back with those estimates.  Why can’t the school board adjust their priorities the same way.  Everyone seems surprised like this came out of know where


    The $122.7M per year cost of school debt (Supervisor Volpe newsletter source) is primarily attributed to new schools needed in the east.  When that valid cost is considered, the western schools are a bargain.  Western Loudoun taxpayers help pay that school debt every year. To be accurate, the average cost per student should include that cost which adds ~$2,000 per student. And one wonders if that cost isn’t included, what other costs are being hidden to make that cost seem lower than actual.

    There is no mention of the additional cost associated with bussing the displaced students further (I recall the cost to operate a school bus was ~$4/mile), so it is not trivial.  Nor is the cost to close/mothball those schools been estimated. How does the closure impact the Hillsboro charter application?  Has that even been evaluated? 

    Shame on LCPS planners that pushed Culbert opening and lobbied to pay above market price for ES-25 land at Grubb and Cangiano when the west apparently never even needed those additional seats.

    And shame on the School Board member who urged the Apr 21 hearing to be held in Ashburn - far from the directly affected communities. As CousinSam stated, this decision appears predetermined and thus the hearing is bogus. Ashburn is NOT centrally located. Holding the hearing in Purcellville would be more appropriate, but if webcast access is SO important, there is no valid reason the hearing could not be held in the BOS Board room (no meetings on the County calendar are scheduled in the Board Room that evening).


    BOS gross negligence - rate set B4 needs


    Whats the big deal with busing the students to other locations if it actually saves money to close the schools? If the cost savings is only 2 million to close 4 schools, it doesnt sound worth it. Back when I was a student the kids from Aldie were bused to Seneca Ridge Middle school. 

    Just wait a few months when the school board comes back with a surplus of money like they did a few years back. classic scare tactics threating to close schools and lay off teachers.


    Hey Jim burton, there were many Loudoun residents outrgaed over all the extra housing developments your group of BOS OKed. Jim, you were part of the problem, poor planning. The Aldie folks can thank you….


    Shiloh, I get your point, and certainly would not expect the Board of Supervisors to listen to Mr. Burton or anyone else based on how they completely dismiss public comments or public opinion.


    And vote out the School Board members. Funny how they came up with a list so quickly.


    Mr. Burton’s busing remark seems inclusive of all the small schools, but he may have only been talking about Aldie, where quite a few of the kids already come from east of 15.  The woman heading the effort on that school lives in a transition zone subdivision.

    So, maybe just his tendency to like having a suburban boogeyman to flog?


    Actually, if Aldie is closed the children from that area will have to be sent east. Either that or go the Middleburg charter school, assuming it actually opens and succeeds. There is no other choice in that corridor as far as I’m aware.

    Lincoln, Hamilton, and Hillsboro probably would end up at the new Culbert school. Of course, by adding these children, that school may become overcrowded (I have no idea of enrollment figures for any of these schools).

    Satchmo - do you actually think this BoS or SB would listen to Mr. Burton? New boards (even ones that have been in office for several years) have a distinct tendancy not to listen to whatever information or advice any previous board member may have to offer, so it’s unlikely that he (or any other previous member of either board) would have any more influence than any of us typing comments here.


    Yeah, when the hearing is the day before the vote you know they’ve made up their minds.  No amount of protest will stop this school board (all Republicans by the way) from ignoring public opinion.


    Yes, let us get outraged now that budget cuts actually affect people.

    Its amazing how people dont pay attention to these things until it affects them.

    Vote out the Board of Supervisors.


    this is odd—nowhere have I heard that children from any closed small school would be bused east.

    On the contrary, someone was having a discussion on L2Day that eastern kids should be bused west to keep the underenrolled small schools at capacity.


    Hey Jim, it would be more appropriate to go scream at the Board of Supervisors.  You ain’t gonna get anywhere yellin’ at a turnip.


    Yet those outside the community are tired of footing the bill for these small expensive schools.  Guess what, the majority usually wns.

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