The Stafford School Board on Tuesday narrowly approved a redistricting plan for the county’s 17 elementary schools by a contentious 4–3 vote.
Following the vote to approve the plan known as E-2-1, Aquia representative Irene Egan and Griffis–Widewater representative Jamie Decatur—who were joined by Hartwood representative Holly Hazard in voting against the plan—left the meeting in frustration.
The approved plan—which was supported by Rock Hill representative Patricia Healy, as well as Falmouth representative Sarah Chase, Garrisonville representative Pamela Yeung and George Washington representative Dewayne McOsker—affects almost 3,000 of Stafford County’s public elementary school children, nearly 700 more than the other plan under consideration.
“I’m not sure how the four of you can not vote to keep 700 kids stationary so they’re not impacted,” said Egan. “Almost 700 kids? I’m actually shocked.”
Her shock was shared by Stafford residents in the audience Tuesday night. Of those who spoke during public comments prior to Tuesday’s vote, as well as at two public hearings earlier this month, no one was in favor of plan E-2-1.
“Enjoy your re-election campaigns. See you on the campaign trail,” said one angry parent as he left the auditorium.
“Amen to that,” another parent said.
Moncure Elementary is the school most affected by the approved plan. It will lose 524 students to Hampton Oaks Elementary, largely from the neighborhood of Aquia Harbour. All together, Moncure’s population will fall by 650 students.
Hampton Oaks Elementary is the second most affected, losing 462 students from the neighborhoods of Aquia Hollow, Arbor Grove Apartments, Foxwood Village mobile home park, Hills of Aquia, Port Aquia and Spring Hill townhomes to Moncure Elementary.
In the other plan under consideration, the hundreds of students from Aquia Harbour would have stayed at Moncure Elementary, where they are now.
The approved plan creates significant income and racial disparities between Hampton Oaks and Moncure elementary schools, with 30 percent more students on free and reduced lunch and a 34 percent higher minority population at Moncure than at Hampton Oaks.
Under the other plan—which was supported by the NAACP—there would have been only about a 10 percent difference between those populations in the two schools.
Moncure Elementary will have the highest minority population and the highest percent of students with limited English proficiency in the county—about 80 and 24 percent, respectively. It will become a Title 1, Tier 2, classroom-reduction school, classifications that result in additional funding from the state but also lowers overall capacity by 26 students.
Both proposed plans, including the one that was approved, relieve overcrowding at Winding Creek Elementary by sending almost 300 students to Park Ridge Elementary.
Most of those students are from the Embrey Mill neighborhood, whose residents lobbied hard to stay at Winding Creek Elementary.
Both plans also relieve overcrowding at Rocky Run Elementary in southern Stafford by sending 225 students, mostly from the lower-income neighborhoods of Olde Forge and Rappahannock Landing, to Conway Elementary.
Both Winding Creek and Rocky Run elementary schools will again be nearing capacity by the 2023–24 school year, while Garrisonville Elementary will reach, at most, only 69 percent capacity in the next four years.
Explaining her support for the approved plan on Tuesday, Chase said it is more reflective of the board’s goal when it began the redistricting process, which was to remove bias from the process.
“We’ve had redistrictings in the past, before I joined this board, where the public has felt certain communities had undue influence,” she said. “So we hired an independent consultant.”
After considering ARCBridge Consulting’s first two plans, the board decided it needed to provide more direction, Chase said. The board then selected two of the resulting three new plans, allowing board members to make “tweaks,” she said.
Chase said the alterations requested by board members affected between 1 percent and 3 percent of the county’s students, except for those requested by Decatur, whose proposed changes in plan E-2-2 affected 9 percent, mostly by keeping Aquia Harbour together at Moncure Elementary.
“A single board member altering the plan by 9 percent doesn’t fit with my definition of ‘tweak,’ ” Chase said. “The independent consultant did not present us with a single plan that had all of Aquia Harbour attending the new Moncure because they could not do so. That’s the issue for me.”
In response, Decatur said her requests were an attempt to find an option to relieve overcrowding at Widewater Elementary other than the one offered by the consultants in all five plans.
She said ARCBridge’s solution was based on the “flawed redistricting data” it was given, which made the area planning unit including Brentsmill subdivision seem larger than it is by incorporating retail space in Stafford Marketplace. Decatur said the “flawed redistricting criteria and subpar data” must be examined and fixed before any further redistrictings occur.
“I still support plan E-2-2 because it closes a significant economic and racial gap between two schools that are 2.6 miles away from each other,” Decatur said.
Hazard said her concern about creating a classroom-reduction school in Moncure Elementary also led her to not support the approved plan.
“[Plan E-2-2] recognizes the favorable impact of neighborhood-supported schools and involved communities,” she said.
Yeung echoed Chase in saying she wouldn’t support plan E-2-2 because “the board asked for no influence of interest groups.”
“No neighborhood is guaranteed to go to their neighborhood school. We are a growing county. It’s not feasible,” she said.
Healy said this redistricting has been “a long, grueling process for all of us.” Her stated reason for supporting the approved plan was that it puts the Woodstream subdivision, which has been moved in the past two redistrictings, back at its closest school, Moncure Elementary.
The subdivision is not in Healy’s Rock Hill District.
McOsker gave no reason Tuesday night for supporting the approved plan.
In both plans under consideration, there were no differences between the schools in Chase and McOsker’s districts.
In a Facebook post, Decatur called the board’s vote “a shame” and said it reminded her that “Stafford is still ‘politics as usual.’ ”
In a phone interview Wednesday, Decatur said the reasons given by the four board members for supporting the approved plan were “not compelling.”
“There is a very strong alliance between those four members [Healy, Yeung, Chase and McOsker],” Decatur said. “I really do hope they will take a look at themselves and this alliance.”
She said an alliance is evident from “previous voting history as well as the extreme hypocrisy and contradictions made in their arguments in support of E-2-1.”
The new attendance zones will be in effect for the upcoming school year, which begins Aug. 12.
According to Stafford County’s proposed capital improvement plan, a new elementary school will not open in the county until 2033.