The Stafford School Board will consider three new plans for redistricting the county’s 17 elementary schools for the 2019–20 school year.
ARCBridge Consulting, the Herndon-based firm hired by the school board to develop redistricting plans, presented the three new plans at a work session Saturday morning.
Under the original redistricting timetable, the board was to have voted this week on a final redistricting plan. But the board sent the consultants back to the drawing board earlier this month after the first two plans were met with widespread disapproval by Stafford parents.
The plans presented Saturday were developed using new criteria, explained ARCBridge’s Priti Mathur.
The updated guidelines include ensuring no bus rides are longer than they are now, keeping the percentage of free and reduced lunch recipients at or below 53.8 percent—the current highest percentage countywide—and keeping all schools at between 81 and 90 percent capacity for the first four years.
In addition to these guidelines, ARCBridge created one plan, plan C, based on a radius approach. The consultants drew a radius of one-and-a-half miles from each elementary school and tried to keep planning units located within that circumference at that school.
The radius approach allowed them to identify the five closest schools to each planning unit.
“Every planning unit was assigned to at least the closest five schools but mostly to the first and second [closest] schools,” Mathur said.
The resulting plan C affects 3,127 students and splits 11 neighborhoods.
Mathur said there are 831 total neighborhoods in Stafford County and it would be impossible to keep them all together. But she said plan C would affect the fewest number of children and split the least number of neighborhoods.
“I do like plan C primarily because we feel that we have been able to look at distances and are not just totally relying on adjacency,” she said. “That is something we feel good about. The kids should go the closest school they possibly can go to.”
The new plans D and E are revised versions of the original two, but Mathur said they are dramatically different and should be considered brand new.
Plan D affects 3,259 students and splits 12 neighborhoods, while plan E affects 3,358 and splits 11 neighborhoods.
Irene Egan, Aquia District member, asked Mathur and division staff whether area planning unit information had been adjusted to create the new plans.
Parents have raised many questions about whether the student projections for each planning unit are based on correct information.
But Matt Townsend, supervisor of planning and GIS, said none of the numbers were changed.
“The consultant felt the projection model is working as it is intended to be working,” he said. “Last time, we were looking at the fourth year, so we were totally dependent on the projections. This time, we’re looking at the first year as well.”
The school board had scheduled a tentative work session for Monday night to go over the new plans in detail.
However, Scott Horan, assistant superintendent for operations, said it would take staff working all weekend to put together data showing how many students from each area planning unit would be affected by each of the plans and which specific neighborhoods would be moved, as board members requested.
The board rescheduled the work session for Thursday evening. At that point, it will choose two of the three plans to present to the public.
Citizens will have an opportunities to address the board on the two selected plans at public hearings on March 13 and 14, one in north Stafford and one in south Stafford.
After another work session on March 21, the board will vote on a final plan March 26, the date by which superintendent Scott Kizner said they must decide in order for changes to be implemented by August.
“This is an ambitious schedule, but probably the only way we’re going to get it done,” School Board Chair Patricia Healy said.