Something is broken in the system used to determine school boundaries in Loudoun County.
In the midst of the boundary hearings, school planning zones are being split when new plans are announced, walk zones are being established without safety review or public input, and HOA has become the “official” definition of community.
School Board Bylaws 2-32 list in order the initial considerations to be considered when making changes to boundaries. They are as follows:
- Facilities – Effective use of new and existing facilities. Promote reasonable balancing of enrollment within the school system.
- Proximity – Keeping students close to their school. Attendance zones shall be based upon geographic proximity as measure by distance traveled using established routes of transportation. Adjacent neighborhoods to a school should be given priority to that school. Efforts will be made to encourage walking as the primary means of transportation.
- Community – Promote the concept of community schools in which the school is in the community and the community is in the school.
When Proximity is ignored, Trailside Middle School is not the middle school that Newton-Lee Elementary School students will attend. These two schools are located on the same site, are just 70 feet apart, share a common entrance, and will be required to share fields, parking, etc. According to the criteria used by the school board as stated above, students attending Newton-Lee should be given first priority to attend Trailside Middle School. These considerations are being ignored when plans shift the Newton-Lee community comprised of Belmont County Club, Alexander’s Grove and Cedar Ridge to the Belmont Ridge/HS-8 cluster. While walk zones have not been established it is believed that a large percentage of Belmont Country Club students would be able to walk to Newton-Lee Elementary School and Trailside Middle School. The potential savings for middle school students alone is $ 210,483.00 (Transportation cost of $771 per student per year provided by LCPS Planning).
When proximity is ignored, two Ashburn Farm school zones that are within sight and walking distance of Broad Run High School use HOA as the justification to attend Stone Bridge High School. One zone argues it will still require busing due to safety concerns. Even if bused, the distance to Broad Run is less than the distance they are bused to their current high school. The School Board could realize an immediate savings of $ 65,535.00 and an additional potential savings of $46,260.00 by realigning these two school zones to the closest high school.
In the midst of a $16 million budget shortfall, the School Board should be looking to maximize transportation cost savings.
When HOA equals community (and community is used as the most important criteria) you wind up with large HOAs populating area schools first and then smaller neighborhoods are placed where ever they fit best. In School Board Plan 10 you can refer to the placement of school zone 09a as an excellent example of this flawed rationale (see LCPS website under Planning and Legislative services for map).
When HOA equals community (and community is used as the most important criteria) plans move school zone DN 15.1 to Stone Bridge, its ”rival school” because two streets in this section were annexed by Ashburn Farm in 2003.
When HOA equals community (and community is used as the most important criteria) it becomes acceptable to shift seven Belmont Country Club school zones out of their existing high school only to move five Broad Run High school zones to Stone Bridge. Why are we shifting so many school zones out of stone Bridge only to moves other in?
The system for considering boundary changes is broken. Loudoun County should hire an outside firm, one with no stake in the process to help make recommendations when considering boundary changes similar to what is done in Arlington County.
The changes made now will be in place for many years, especially the changes made to Broad Run, Stone Bridge, and HS-8. The board should create a plan that considers balanced enrollment and proximity as the main factors, as well as moving the fewest number of students possible.