Surplussing the former Douglass Elementary School and the Middleburg Community Charter School properties to the county were major points of discussion at Thursday’s joint Board of Supervisors and School Board meeting.
School Board Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the board intends for the former Douglass Elementary School property on Union Street in Leesburg to be used for historic purposes.
The Loudoun Freedom Center and Douglass Alumni Association have asked for the property to be conveyed to them, with plans to use it in a museum-like fashion for STEM education, research and to display historic artifacts. The plans also include a Douglass Alumni Association Hall of Fame, a resource library and meeting spaces.
For the property to change hands, the School Board could lease the school property to the alumni association and LFC, or it could declare the property surplus for the county to then sell to the local groups.
Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) said his biggest concern is whether the Douglass Alumni Association and LFC have the financial means to take over the building maintenance, as he doesn’t want the county on the hook for additional costs once the property is conveyed.
However, unlike with the Middleburg Community Charter School property, the former Douglass Elementary School property is not currently functioning as a school, so Buona said he was more amenable to the School Board declaring the property surplus.
Once the School Board declares a property surplus, under state code, the Board of Supervisors have to accept the property.
For this reason, Buona was a strong voice against the School Board potentially surplussing the Middleburg Community Charter School (MCCS) facility to the county.
The School Board has considered surplussing the property to reduce costs, as the per pupil cost for MCCS students is more expensive than other LCPS students. With the arrival of Metro to Loudoun, less county money will be available for the schools, Morse said.
However, supervisors have expressed concerns and sent a letter to the School Board on March 22 detailing how transferring the property to the county would increase the costs to taxpayers. Buona said the costs to operate and maintain the school would increase by about 370 percent should the county take over for Loudoun County Public Schools.
“Frankly, we don’t want it,” Buona said.
LCPS receives water and sewage services for MCCS for free — an arrangement that likely would not continue should the county take over in operating the school. Buona also said unlike LCPS, the county outsources maintenance, which would be an increase in costs associated with running the school.
Additionally, unlike LCPS, Loudoun County government has no experience with running a school, Buona said.
Morse said that while operating and maintaining MCCS is not as expensive for the School Board, it is still a large expense. Subsequently, Morse said the boards had three options: surplussing the facility and having the county maintain it, the School Board continues to maintain MCCS, or the School Board ceases to extend a charter to MCCS.
Morse said the School Board would likely have to look at the options on a yearly basis. Morse also said that while maintaining MCCS is expensive, he supported having the opportunities MCCS offers available to Loudoun students.
Tom Marshall (Leesburg) said the only alternative if LCPS feels it cannot afford to maintain MCCS or any other charter or small school is to not renew the charter. Buona said he agreed with what Marshall was saying, but there’s a big difference between the charter schools and the small schools, and that the School Board needs to make the hard decisions.
“What you’re doing is you’re forcing the Board of Supervisors to say, ‘We’re going to spend a lot more taxpayer money because you’re not willing to make the decision about the charter school,’” Buona said. “So from my perspective, the School Board needs to man up and either renegotiate the deal with MCCS, or you need to man up and say, ‘We’re not going to do this charter anymore.' Or you need to do what you’re doing today and support it, which is the right thing. But don’t pass the buck.”
Members of both boards agreed to continue the discussion on potentially surplussing school properties.