After months of intense discussion about Stafford County’s plans to redistrict the county’s 17 elementary schools, public hearings on the final two options held this week felt muted.
About 70 people attended the hearing Wednesday evening at North Stafford High School. Fewer attended the Thursday hearing at Stafford High School.
School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy said at the beginning of Wednesday’s hearing that she expected to hear from a lot of people, but after 17 people spoke, no one else came forward.
Twenty-five people spoke at Thursday evening’s hearing. Healy closed both hearings after just one hour.
The board is considering two redistricting plans that are essentially identical except for which school students from Aquia Harbour would attend.
In the plan known as E-2-1, those students attend Hampton Oaks Elementary. In E-2-2, they stay at Moncure Elementary, where they are now.
Nineteen area planning units in the north of the county—including the neighborhoods of Aquia Hollow, Port Aquia, Town Center at Aquia, Aquia Town Center Apartments, Potomac Hills, Hollymead, Sunnyside, Woodstream, Lakewood Apartments and Courts at Stafford—shift between Moncure and Hampton Oaks elementary schools in the two plans, depending on where the several hundred students from Aquia Harbour go.
Changes to the school districts in the southern part of the county are the same in both plans under consideration.
The redistricting process was driven by the fact that two elementary schools—Winding Creek and Rocky Run—are at 97 percent capacity, while Garrisonville Elementary and Rockhill Elementary are underused at 65 and 67 percent capacity, respectively.
In the proposed plans, crowding at Winding Creek Elementary is alleviated largely by sending the several hundred students who live in Embrey Mill to Park Ridge Elementary. Garrisonville, Margaret Brent and Hampton Oaks elementary schools will also get some students from Winding Creek Elementary.
In the south, the pressure is taken off Rocky Run Elementary by sending the several hundred students who live in Olde Forge and Rappahannock Landing to Conway Elementary.
Rockhill Elementary gains 145 students from Margaret Brent Elementary, but Garrisonville Elementary, the other underused school, gains only about 40 students.
Originally, the School Board asked ARCBridge, the consulting firm that prepared the plans, to aim for keeping all 17 elementary schools at about 85 percent capacity four years after the plan is implemented. The board later revised this goal to between 80 and 91 percent.
But according to the four-year projections under the proposed plans, Winding Creek Elementary would be at almost 97 percent capacity by 2023–24, and Rocky Run Elementary would be at almost 96 percent. Garrisonville Elementary would still be significantly under capacity, at only about 67 percent. Rockhill Elementary would be at about 86 percent.
Several speakers at the hearings said they prefer E-2-2 over E-2-1 because it affects fewer students—2,463 as opposed to 3,036. Several Aquia Harbour parents said they prefer this plan because they want their children to stay at Moncure Elementary.
One parent said E-2-2 is better because it makes the disparity between the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch at Hampton Oaks and Moncure elementary schools less glaring. In E-2-1, Hampton Oaks would have 23 percent free and reduced lunch students and Moncure would have 53 percent. In E-2-2, there is only a 7 percent difference between the two schools.
Many speakers weren’t happy with either plan. Parents talked about potentially long bus rides along busy roads that could get even longer if there are accidents or heavy traffic.
Others asked the board to consider feeder patterns to the middle and high schools, saying their children would be isolated from their friends under the new boundaries.
The mother of a Moncure Elementary student said it isn’t fair for the School Board to move students away from that school after it has asked them to get excited about the major renovations there.
A group of mothers from Embrey Mill proposed an alternative to the plans that would keep students from Embrey Mill Phase 1 at Winding Creek Elementary and send those from Augustine North to Margaret Brent Elementary and those from Autumn Ridge to Park Ridge Elementary.
According to their proposal, this would prevent future overcrowding at Winding Creek and even out capacity. It also helps feeder patterns and keeps neighborhoods at the closest schools, they said.
Healy, whose Rockhill District includes Augustine, has said at previous meetings that she would like to keep the neighborhood at Winding Creek Elementary.
The board will hold a final work session on the plans March 21 and will vote on the new elementary school attendance zones at a regular meeting March 26.