The Loudoun County School Board voted to extend its agreement with Fairfax County Public Schools to send students to Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, or TJ, after making two amendments during its Tuesday meeting.
Because Fairfax County chooses to extend the contract on a yearly basis, the Loudoun School Board once again weighed the decision of whether to send another class to TJ next year or discontinue Loudoun’s participation at TJ.
Almost 90 Loudoun residents, including students as young as second-graders, spoke before the board in favor of continuing the agreement with Fairfax County.
Saving money and keeping Loudoun taxpayer dollars in Loudoun was a significant component of the discussion, with both amendments proposed by Chris Croll (Catoctin District) attempting to find a compromise between those wanting to cut the program to save money and those wanting to keep the program.
“We have students who need a more rigorous program than we can offer, however, there are many many families who are concerned about the amount of money we spend,” Croll said.
Croll’s first amendment cut transportation to TJ passed by a 5-4 vote with Joy Maloney (Broad Run District), Beth Huck (At-Large), Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles District) and Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) opposed.
Fairfax County Public Schools invoiced LCPS $3.79 million for students this fiscal year, and the board budgeted $500,000 for transportation to TJ. According to LCPS staff, by not providing transportation, the school district would save $1.2 million over the next four years.
However, several board members said this posed an equity issue because it would serve as an additional burden to students from economically disadvantaged families who wish to apply or accepting an admittance offer.
Croll’s second amendment also passed 5-4, with Maloney, Huck, Morse and Sheridan opposed. The amendment limited the number of new students Loudoun would send to TJ to 50. In the past several years, Loudoun has sent between 50-83 students to TJ.
Morse and Maloney spoke against limiting Loudoun’s seats from 110 to 50 because it would take away opportunities from Loudoun students and make the new Academies of Loudoun even more competitive.
Limiting future classes of Loudoun students at TJ to 50 would save $1.2 million over the next four years, according to LCPS staff.
Debbie Rose (Algonkian District) said money not spent on students attending TJ could be used to better serve Loudoun facilities and programs. Croll later added that Loudoun has gifted students at all its schools who are under-served – not just at TJ or the Academies.
Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge District) said for students or families who felt caught off guard by the discussion to end Loudoun’s involvement with TJ, the conversation started at least six years ago when the board purchased land for the Academies of Loudoun.
Loudoun opted to participate at TJ because at the time it was a smaller school system and did not offer secondary gifted education.
“We have since grown greatly,” Turgeon said.
The board ultimately voted 6-3 to renew its contract with Fairfax County as amended, with Turgeon, Rose and Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) opposed.