Fredericksburg public school officials don’t report official enrollment figures to the state until the end of the month, but those for one city school have already exceeded two different projections.
Moseley Architects’ study, which was done in 2017, had estimated that Hugh Mercer would have 879 students in kindergarten through second-grade classes this school year. The latest enrollment figure was 976, interim Superintendent Marci Catlett told the School Board at its meeting Monday. That exceeds the school’s capacity, which is 945 students.
Enrollment at the city’s three other schools, however, was less than Moseley had projected. It had said Lafayette Upper Elementary School’s enrollment would be 858 students, but it was 783; Walker–Grant Middle School’s would be 853, but it was 804; and James Monroe High School’s would be 1,054, but it was 1,033.
Parents had questioned Moseley’s figures after the School Board voted in January to approve a 25-year student capacity plan that would expand Lafayette Upper Elementary School instead of building a long-promised third elementary school. Construction was to begin in July, and Hugh Mercer Elementary second-graders would move there when work is completed in 2023.
School and city officials had hashed out that plan during several joint meetings in which they also considered the city’s other pressing needs, including a new fire station. Their decision was based partly on Moseley Architect’s enrollment projections, which several parents told the School Board and City Council they thought were inaccurate and underestimated future enrollment growth.
The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group was hired to provide new figures. Its enrollment projection for Hugh Mercer was 951 students on the first day of school, and City Council decided to delay spending the $1 million in the proposed Capital Improvement Plan for planning the Lafayette expansion and consider other options.
Council members also approved school officials’ request for an additional $389,682, mainly for buses, so the approximately 70 Virginia Pre-School Initiative students at Hugh Mercer could be moved back to the renovated Walker–Grant Center this school year. A number of parents had pushed for moving VPI students back to that building following its renovation. The change freed up four classrooms at the elementary school and the auxiliary gym, which had been used as classroom space.
Director of Personnel Jon Russ told the School Board that Hugh Mercer “is still packed” despite moving the VPI students. A modular classroom was ordered over the summer to help accommodate the influx of students, and it should be ready for use in a few weeks. It brings the total number of cottages, as the modulars are called at Hugh Mercer, to five.
Hugh Mercer Principal Marjorie Tankersley said enrollment at her school had reached 983 on Friday, and she’s eyeing turning the room used for health instruction into an additional classroom. The health teacher can either visit the regular classrooms or move to the new trailer.
“We’re in discussions about using it now,” she said.
No classroom at Hugh Mercer has more than 22 students, which is the maximum allowed by School Board policy. If there’s a need to add a class to ease the student–teacher ratio, Tankersley said she would send a letter to parents asking if their child would volunteer to move. She said there are always some who aren’t happy where they are or are willing to try something new.
“If I don’t get enough, I have to start pulling, but I won’t pull a child whose parents don’t want them moved,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting, the School Board also approved formalizing its role in a City Council–Schools Joint Working Group, which will have two members from each body. School Board Chairman Jennifer Boyd and Jannan Holmes were appointed to represent the School Board. City Council will vote on the working group later this month.
City Council and School Board members began meeting informally on a monthly basis to discuss items of mutual interest such as the proposed LUES expansion in 2017, and the public has often attended. No schedule or location has been determined for the meeting.