The Stafford County School Board may need to commit to a politically painful process in return for $10 million-plus to purchase and renovate Fredericksburg Christian School’s shuttered campus off Garrisonville Road.
The Board of Supervisors, which controls the purse strings, voted unanimously Tuesday to send a letter to School Board Chairwoman Patricia Healy stating that money for the Christian school would be contingent on a countywide elementary school redistricting plan.
Supervisors Chairwoman Meg Bohmke clarified in an interview that the School Board will need to at least initiate the redistricting process—which involves changing attendance zones to address over-and-undercrowded elementary schools—and have a plan in place for the 2019–20 school year.
Asked whether supervisors would require a commitment from the School Board in writing, she replied, “We didn’t really get down into that.”
School Board members already have said they plan to redistrict elementary-schoolers, but some supervisors worry they will get cold feet. Any outcome is bound to upset some parents and students who do not want to change schools, with Supervisor Mark Dudenhefer calling redistricting the “hardest thing an elected official can do.”
“But that does not absolve the schools from moving forward,” he said.
Supervisor Wendy Maurer noted that some elementary schools are over capacity, while others have plenty of room. For instance, Rockhill Elementary School is expected to be 208 students under capacity next school year, while Hampton Oaks Elementary School—which is about 4 miles away—is projected to be over capacity by 34 students.
“If we commit to buying Fredericksburg Christian, I need the schools to also commit to redistricting,” Maurer said.
The former FCS building would serve Head Start students from North Stafford and 3- and 4-year-olds in the Early Childhood Special Education program starting in the fall of 2019, based on the current plan. The preschoolers in the special education program meet at various elementary schools throughout Stafford, and School Board members say moving them to the former private school would free up a significant amount of classroom space.
Supervisors last month approved a nonbinding capital plan that includes $10.65 million this fiscal year for the purchase and renovation of the former Christian school. They have not yet voted to actually borrow the money, which requires a public hearing.
Healy, the School Board chairwoman, said members do plan to redistrict elementary-schoolers countywide, but cannot do that without acquiring the former Christian school. The additional school would free up 20 classrooms at existing elementary schools throughout the county, she said.
“Right now, there’s really nowhere to move the students,” Healy said. The School Board on Tuesday is scheduled to discuss the redistricting process, which would potentially be the largest in recent memory.
Five of Stafford’s 17 elementary schools—Falmouth, Hampton Oaks, Hartwood, Margaret Brent and Winding Creek—are expected to be over capacity next school year and at least four others will be near capacity. But projections show six elementary schools will each be under capacity by more than 100 students.
In other business, supervisors voted unanimously to pass a resolution encouraging the School Board to put a modular classroom at Hartwood Elementary School to relieve overcrowding. And the resolution has some teeth, stating that supervisors will withhold $445,865 in local funding for schools “to determine the School Board’s intention” of providing the trailer.
Hartwood is expected to have 605 students next school year, or 77 more than its capacity.
A divided School Board recently voted against moving a two-classroom trailer from Colonial Forge High School to Hartwood Elementary School at a cost of $49,500. The resolution passed by supervisors encourages the School Board to either reconsider that vote or purchase a new trailer for Hartwood.
Healy said in an interview that the plan posed safety concerns. She wondered who would escort students to the bathroom because the portable classroom at Forge does not have one.
Supervisor Gary Snellings said Hartwood had identified a “perfect spot” for the trailer right next to the school and that students and teachers would be “fighting to get into” it.
“They like them, they really do,” he said of modular classrooms.
Without the trailer, Snellings said, a music teacher would lose her classroom and an assistant principal’s office would need to be turned into a classroom.