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Loudoun School Board committee works to address concerns about new school closure policy

A new policy in the works in the School Board’s Finance and Facilities Committee about the closure of existing schools has sent waves of concern among the small school community.

Parents and advocates believe the proposed policy could make it easier to close small schools, and the committee addressed some of those concerns at its meeting Tuesday.

“History shows us that, historically, western Loudoun schools have been targeted in this regard,” committee Chairman Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said.

The policy states “any other reason that would justify retiring or re-purposing a facility” as reasons or factors for consideration, and that has particularly alarmed small school advocates.

Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), who does not sit on the Finance and Facilities Committee but attended the meeting, said that generally the language for reasons and factors to consider closing a school are too vague, and the committee should clarify how efficiency or effectiveness can be quantified when considering closing a school.

Committee member Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said the School Board and superintendent has the authority to close a school at any time, with or without a written policy. Writing a policy puts parameters and gives guidelines to board members, she said.

“This policy is a tool,” Sheridan said. “There seems to be a lot of negativity associated in the public and I just want people to understand that that isn’t what the policy does. The policy is in place to give those parameters to the board.”

Committee member Jeff Morse (Dulles) agreed with Sheridan, saying the policy gives the School Board more to consider when having the conversation about closing or consolidating a school. It is not to be used to cherry pick schools.

DeKenipp said the committee needs more data comparing schools, particularly in the operating and maintenance costs, which is how much it costs to use a building.

“I think it’s important that we do, as a committee and next as a board, conduct proper due diligence so that we can make informed, quantitative, data-driven decisions to ensure that the policy is fully baked,” DeKenipp said. “The current state of the policy, I feel, is half-baked.”

Staff had previously compiled data on the capital costs of operating some smaller, western Loudoun schools, but DeKenipp said that's not sufficient because some of the capital costs would move with students should a school close and students be moved.

DeKenipp asked staff to compare schools from across the county that vary in size and enrollment in order to get a baseline comparison on how much it costs to utilize school buildings. He said having a baseline comparison will help in clarifying the policy.

The new policy is also to separate the conversation of closing a school from the budget and CIP process. This elicited questions about when the superintendent or School Board could request a school facility be closed or re-purposed.

Morse said it was important not to shortchange Loudoun County Public Schools staff or the community by bringing up the closure of a school during the budget reconciliation process. Sheridan said the request would have to come before LCPS staff presents the School board with the CIP and CAPP.

Assistant Superintendent Kevin Williams also said that, should LCPS decide to close a school, the boundary adjustment process would have to take place the fall before the school is set to close.

The request would also have to come before the budget is presented, given a school closing would affect budget projections.

The committee agreed that the School Board should offer a minimum of one public hearing on the matter of closing a school with at least 10 days notice of the hearing.

DeKenipp instructed staff to recommend a timeline of when the superintendent or School Board could recommend the closing of a school, recommend verbiage to detail how and when the school community would be notified of a closure, differentiate between what language would go in the school closure policy versus a regulation and come up with a list of 10 schools varying in size and location for a financial analysis.

Now that the committee has made changes and asked for additional work from staff, it will hear staff’s answers at its Feb. 13 meeting and tweak the policy some more before voting to send it to the full board.

Comments


As BobO and Jim Dunning have pointed out, the teachers with the most experience are concentrated in schools with the lowest FRL/ESL rates. This means the actual $/pupil is often highest on the affluent students who need less help. Why? Because LCPS admins gives senior teachers more $ solely for seniority and give them what they want in terms of location. As always, 1965, why don’t we place some wagers on these facts.

And as for the calendar, do you not participate in providing “feedback” on the school board member FB pages? We are treated with quotes about how the teachers love extended winter breaks. Funny how they never even respond to the single mothers on there begging for shorter breaks so they don’t have to take so much time off from their limited (not 60+ days like teachers) vacation time. And Jill Turgeon admitted it was a mistake to vive the public options because the board was going to adopt a calendar they thought best for teachers regardless of what students and parents want. And the school board members listen most to their spouses, whether it is extra breaks during the year or forcing parents to drive across route 50 so teachers don’t have to deal with crowded schools (even though parents want to stay with neighborhood friends and avoid the traffic nightmares).  I take it 1965 that you are now for 1) teachers using spring break as workdays rather than adding 2 useless days on either side of spring break, 2) PD before school starts in August, and 3) shorter winter breaks. That’s good to know you have finally become concerned about someone other than yourself and your short 190-day workyear.


I’m just curious how VSGP comes to these conclusions.  Teachers have no say in the next year’s calendar, including the length of the breaks, the placement of work days on the calendar, or the start and end dates.  Options are presented, but the decision is made by the school board. He may as well add in that teachers determine whether school is delayed or closed when it snows. 

Further, when a teacher puts in for a transfer, there is no guarantee he or she will get the “cushy” school.  As a matter of fact, if a teacher puts in for a transfer to a certain school, and it’s not available or someone else gets the position, there is the possibility that teacher could be transferred anywhere in the county as a result of being placed in the transfer pool. 

But Resident, don’t discourage him; it’s comical reading most of the time.


I love how teachers and liberals try to deflect any criticism from taxpayers and citizens.  They can’t defend their positions so they challenge critics to come work as a teacher before they will respond to any criticism.  Funny how they didn’t tell the community organizer (Obama) he couldn’t comment on financial policy or military policy or tax policy before he could get elected and make policy.

But let me ask you this question.  LCPS hires the most new teachers in any district in Virginia.  We have heard how LCPS teachers are “underpaid” in general and with respect to surrounding counties.  So which district should have the most teaching vacancies?  Wouldn’t it make sense for LCPS, who supposedly underpays its teachers, and has to hire so many new positions each year to be leading the vacancy pack? 


Once again, VSGP turns any school related post into a tirade against teachers. 

Once again, SGP, if you are so convinced that teachers jobs are cushy and the profession needs to be enhanced by better teachers, why don’t you enroll in a Career Switcher program?  You continually state that the pay and benefits and hours are wonderful.  Based on your posts you might do well as an AP Statistics instructor.  I’m still waiting but not holding my breath.


Do “retired” schools’ buildings ever get repurposed? Or are they just leveled and replaced by some other types of buildings?
I have only seen a school building repurposed once or twice- usually for hospice centers.


BobO, good point.  But I think anyone who thinks this school district is run for the benefit of the students is sadly naive.

This district is run by and for the teachers.  It is about giving them their preferences, be it extended Winter breaks, teacher workdays on either side of spring break, 9% raises, or their choice of the cushiest school (lowest ESL/FRL).

If we used the education reform model of paying teachers based on skill (just like every other profession and the military), the limited master teacher slots would be evenly distributed across schools.  Likewise, junior teaching slots would be evenly distributed so Sterling and Algonkian were not overloaded with novice teachers.

The majority of this school board is only interested in protecting their teacher friends/spouses.  They need to be voted out.


LCPS schools ARE community resources and tend to be strategically located in the communities they serve. This means ALL SCHOOLS ARE CRITICAL TO THEIR COMMUNITY REGARDLESS OF SIZE! It should not be OK to close a school without looking into what makes that school inferior from both a community and student serving perspective IMHO after 8 years on the school board. Mr. DeKenipp is right to ask questions and get data but there also has to be some focus on why this and prior Superintendents have allowed staff to transfer around the county without regard to mentoring needs or even balancing resources. When on the board I asked for and received a study which I suggest all current board members read which showed both the experience level and cost of labor per school. It showed how little the long experienced teachers stayed in places like Algongian and how many migrated (with school exec approval) to other schools with (IMHO) less academic challenges. The school board remains responsible to provide the check and balance control over the Superintendent. When these issues arise it seems the job is not being effectively done.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

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