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School Board shelves small school closure policy

A policy meant to provide the School Board guidance when it wants to close schools, but has been perceived as a way to disproportionately shut down small schools, was tabled at Tuesday's board meeting. The board did not set a date for revisiting the item.

The proposed policy had been months in the making at the committee level. The policy outlined reasons for considering closing a school, including effectiveness of the learning environment, efficiency of the facility, educational equity.

Other factors for considering closure include capital, operational, maintenance and upkeep costs; suitability for teaching and learning; cultural (community and historic) aspects; current and future enrollment versus capacity;programming concerns; educational continuity; transportation and security.

Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin), who chairs the Finance and Facilities Committee where the policy has been undergoing work, told the School Board he felt the policy was too broad. Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) agreed.

“It’s very vague, and I understand sometimes policies need to be vague, and in that case, there needs to be regulations that go along with it and I don’t see that and I don’t know that that was discussed,” Turgeon said. “It’s bad policy. There’s no need to it.”

Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said the state code which gives school boards the authority to close schools was sufficient and a policy wasn’t necessary, because board members always take in a variety of factors when making the decision to close schools.

“I honestly don’t believe we need this policy, we just simply need data and we need a dialogue with the broader Loudoun community, not just some,” Hornberger said.

Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), who also sits on the Finance and Facilities Committee, disagreed with DeKenipp wanting more parameters based on data in a policy, because he said there would never be a perfect equation to determine school consolidation and closure.

By the end of the board discussion, Morse said he was in favor of killing the proposed policy or sending it back to committee. After working on the policy for three years, he said he knew no matter what was passed, it wouldn’t change board member’s minds on closing small schools.

Morse said that he is a supporter of small schools but also supported having a policy to give board members guidance should they need to have the conversation on closure.

“What I’m trying to do is give a framework to have a discussion if that discussion needs to happen, because what we have if this policy goes down, is we go back to the wild, wild west, and there is no clear cut way to look at and pursue any opportunities,” Morse said. “That means crazy stuff can happen and emotions can run high and that’s not the way it should be done.”

Tom Marshall (Leesburg) made a motion to send the policy back to committee for more work. Marshall said when board members need guidance or have a problem, they look to policy, so a policy on school consolidation and closure is necessary.

Debbie Rose (Algonkian) made a substitute motion to table the policy. The move to table passed with a 6-1-2 vote, with Marshall opposed, Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) absent, and DeKenipp, who left early, absent for the vote.


The documents shared with the school board to support this discussion are lacking details that would have been needed based on my experience. What is the cost to remedy the size issue? What is the distance to the nearest school that could accommodate the students already attending? What are the other costs per student at each school (salaries, transportation etc)? How does each school rank as a strategic assets for the community attending the school AND using the school as a community resource? How does it perform academically? It seems quite absurd to hear that closing a small school which is the foundation of a community for efficiency reasons when the consent agenda approves two artificial turf field WITHOUT ANY FINANCIAL ANALYSIS JUSTIFYING THEIR nearly $1.6 million price tag. (EACH) That should be embarrassing to anyone who understands the costs of maintaining already existing Heritage and Dominion fields. Were these fields guaranteed at no cost to LCPS for 10 years as Tuscarora and Woodgrove fields which cost less than half as much and did not start out as level land either.
Bob Ohneiser Esq.

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