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Fairfax on its own: AG rules Loudoun cannot pay for TJ renovations

The Loudoun County School Board does not have the legal authority to help fund capital renovation costs, the office of the state attorney general stated.

In an official advisory opinion on June 28, state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said the School Board does not have the legal ability to pay for renovation costs for a school it does not in any way own or lease.

Cuccinelli found that the cooperative agreement between Fairfax County and Loudoun County public schools entails “LCSB commits only to pay for "actual costs" for special services and "full costs for each student attending based on per-pupil costs.”

In January, Fairfax County Public Schools informed Loudoun County that it would be completing $88.9 million in renovation and that each participating school district was expected to pay part of the tab in order to continue sending students. About one-sixth of TJ's 1,800 student population is from outside of Fairfax and
Loudoun composes the largest non-Fairfax contingency. In a letter to Loudoun County Superintendent Edgar Hatrick, Fairfax County Superintendent Jack Dale offered Loudoun the option of paying a $7.75 million lump sum, or paying $1,847 per student for the next 33 years.

Stephen DeVita, legal counsel for Loudoun County Public Schools, solicited Del. Joe May (R-33) to get an opinion from Cuccinelli.

The county already pays an out-of-county tuition for students to attend TJ; Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction, says the total generally comes to around $11,000 a head.

“What the attorney general's opinion really makes clear is Loudoun cannot commit itself to a 20-year commitment to pay for the renovations,” said School Board member Bill Fox (Leesburg). That's something we said we weren't willing to do in the beginning.”

The prospect of sending more money to Fairfax resulted in more talks of severing Loudoun's relationship with the prestigious magnet school and instead funneling more money into Loudoun's own Academy of Science.

Fox, who sits on the Board's Instruction and Curriculum Committee, said he isn't opposed to an increased tuition per student but not a long-term fee.

Ultimately, he said he hopes this will help hold over students as the county continues to bolster up the Academy of Science.

“We're really kind of looking for a stop-gap measure here,” Fox said. “We're looking for a way we can continue this relationship for another few years until we can develop and expand our own academy options. We want that money flowing into Loudoun schools and Loudoun's academy rather than continuing to pay for another county's schools.”

Current students and rising freshman don't have to worry about the county's relationship with TJ. Fairfax has indicated those students will be grandfathered, allowing them to finish their schooling at TJ.

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