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Loudoun School Board listens to western communities, schools fate yet to be determined

Students hold up a sign for school board members to see at the Loudoun County Public Schools Admin Building in Ashburn on April 21. Times-Mirror Photo/Jonathan Taylor
Chants of “Save our Schools” started the School Board's public hearing on the closing of four small schools in western Loudoun Monday night.

More than 180 speakers turned out at the public hearing pleading with the School Board to keep their schools open and showing them how important the schools are to the community.

The board room was standing room only with approximately 400 people in the chambers and excess crowd flowing into the hallway.

Supporters of the small Loudoun schools wore red and showed support for the nearly five-hour meeting.

Less than a half-hour into the proceedings, Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) was forced to call for a break due to unruliness.

During the break, the chants of “save our schools” started again spanning the entire five-minute period.

Upon the board's return, Hornberger threatened to adjourn the public hearing due to unruliness in the crowd.

“I have had School Board members ask me if we can adjourn and we are here to listen, but if you don't abide by chamber rules we will be forced to adjourn. All that is needed is five votes,” Hornberger told the crowd.

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.

In a letter drafted to parents of students at Aldie, Hamilton, Hillsboro and Lincoln elementary schools, LCPS outlined the likely destinations for students should those schools be closed.

Aldie students would be rezoned to attend either Arcola or Buffalo Trail elementary schools. Students currently at Hillsboro would be reassigned to Mountain View Elementary and students at Hamilton and Lincoln would attend Kenneth Culbert.

Two of the schools on the chopping block, Hillsboro and Aldie, have been developing alternative plans to keep their schools open.

Hillsboro is in the preliminary stages of developing a plan for a charter school, much like Middleburg Elementary did this year.

At Aldie, with a student body of 131, the school system is expecting it to exceed its capacity in coming years.

To remedy the expected over capacity, the group is proposing a new wing attached to the existing school by a covered walkway.

The two-story addition will add a media center and library, an art and music room, special education room and nurse's office.

Currently, the largest class at the school has 27 students and the smallest class has 19 students.

Like other community groups, the Lincoln Community League has rallied in support of their historic school.

According to a fact sheet gathered by the LCL, closing the school will result in nearby Culbert immediately operating at 116 percent capacity.

Lincoln also only utilizes two school buses, with most of the 135 student body walking or being classified as school-choice students.

Lincoln has also recently won the National Blue Ribbon Award and the Governor's Award. It is one of only 5,200 schools in the nation to be classified as a Blue Ribbon School.

Sarah Livingston, a mother of three at Hillsboro, spoke about how the small school has helped her son, Alex, who was having problems in the classroom prior to attending the school.

“He was energetic and enthusiastic to learn. In a small school and with an amazing teacher, Alex had his presumed weaknesses turned into strengths,” Livingston said. “The people who have facilitated success for my son will always belong to us. My son represents a success story for Loudoun County.”

Throughout the proceedings, several speakers questioned the financial numbers and data being presented to the School Board, referencing “wider and hidden costs” not reflected by staff reports.

Many seem to think the roughly $500,000 in school costs seem lower than they should be.

Many of the speakers were adamant that closing the four schools just “doesn't make sense financially.”

Leslie McFadden, a calculus teacher at Heritage High School, presented some numbers to the School Board.

“One-hundred and thirty-five is the number of students currently enrolled at Lincoln. Forty-five is the number of special admission students at Lincoln. One-hundred and sixty-five is the number of students currently enrolled at Hamilton,” McFadden said. “One-hundred ninety-eight is the number of available seats at Kenneth Culbert. Thirty-seven is the number of students in excess of capacity at Kenneth Culbert for the 2014-2015 school year if Lincoln and Hamilton are closed. Five is the number of new developments planned or under construction in Purcellville.

“Thirty-three is the number of millions of dollars necessary for building a new elementary school, not including debt service,” McFadden said. “Two million is the number that stands to be saved by closing the small schools and 16.5 is the number of years it will take at $2 million per year to pay for the cost of a new school. Can you guarantee your constituents that you will not be requesting $33 million to build a new school in western Loudoun for the next 16.5 years?”

While School Board members didn't comment during the meeting, they're expected to extensively discuss the $38 million budget shortfall at Tuesday's regularly scheduled business meeting.

The School Board is hoping to be able to reconcile the budget at that meeting.


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