The committee of parents representing the elementary schools in the Western Feeder Pattern appears inclined to leave current school attendance zone boundaries, and the existing school populations, as they are. They are likely instead to call for an addition to Crozet Elementary School on a scale that accommodates prospective growth in Crozet. Once it is built, no sooner than four years from now, a redistricting of the feeder pattern would be done that presumably would produce stable enrollments.
The four schools in the Western Feeder Pattern, those schools whose students are destined for Western Albemarle High School, are Brownsville, Crozet, Meriwether Lewis and Virginia Murray Elementaries. Each has two representatives on the committee. A parent from Red Hill Elementary in North Garden also sits on the group, since that school could potentially feel a ripple effect and be enlarged by students shifted from Murray.
The committee’s alternative course would be to recommend a near-term shift of some students from Meriwether Lewis to Crozet, perhaps from the Browns Gap Turnpike and White Hall areas, or, less likely, a shift of some from Meriwether Lewis to Murray, such as children in the Glenaire vicinity.
Meriwether Lewis Elementary is currently 52 students over what is called its “program capacity,” basically the enrollment it was designed to serve given our educational values. The school uses four trailers, one as a music classroom, but the committee was not persuaded that this degree of overcrowding justifies a redistricting action. School officials told the group they have no plan or intention for building on to Meriwether Lewis Elementary.
In a meeting Nov. 11 at Crozet Elementary, the committee learned that a survey of Meriwether Lewis parents had identified their highest priorities in a change of enrollment size. Highest concern, at 37 percent, was that the quality of instruction and learning not deteriorate, next at 32 percent was preserving student friendships, transportation factors were cited by 20 percent and impact on property values was the fourth factor at 19 percent.
The committee examined the figures on school capacity and current and projected enrollments. [See the chart on page 20.] Predictions are based on local birth data and the locations of building permits issued and, judging by zoning, where they may be expected. County schools Chief Operating Officer Josh Davis said school leaders do not have strong confidence in projections that are longer than three years out.
While agreeing that the school has more students than it is supposed to have, Meriwether Lewis parent James Younger said, “Being over capacity does not necessarily mean students have to move. We’ve been over since 2007 and we were redistricted to create the overcapacity situation.”
Davis referred to this option as “the holding pattern.”
An addition to Crozet Elementary would add 130 seats in a two-story wing that would roughly occupy the spot where a basketball court is now on the south side of the school. The main office, library, kitchen and cafeteria would also be remodeled. The estimated cost of the addition is $5.67 million. The new capacity would be 472 students.
This plan assumes a redistricting decision has been made that sets that capacity. If redistricting is put off, an even larger addition is possible that would aim for a higher capacity. The addition would likely mean a redistricting affecting each of the four schools in the pattern.
An addition to Crozet Elementary is not on the county’s current list of planned capital projects. Even if the Board of Supervisors agrees to the idea and funds it immediately, the addition would not be available until the 2016-17 school year.
“This is not a funded project. This would be a request to the county,” said Davis.
Without certainty that it would be built, the committee was reluctant to move students to Crozet now.
Murray parent Mary Margaret Frank said she was “uncomfortable with moving 50 kids out of Meriwether Lewis and into Crozet” and made a motion to “take Crozet off the table.” It passed on a 10-1 vote with Younger dissenting.
After some discussion, the possibility of moving children living on Browns Gap Turnpike, who until 2008 traditionally had gone to Crozet, back to that school was kept in play.
The committee next rejected two possible shifts that would have sent children from the Holkham Drive and Owensville Road neighborhoods or from the Old Ballard Road and West Leigh neighborhoods to Murray. Students in the Glenaire area are two miles closer to Murray than Meriwether and that shift was not finally rejected, but there are presently only eight students who would be affected by that change, so its impact on Meriwether would be negligible.
At their next meeting Nov. 27 at Murray Elementary, the committee reviewed possible future moves of current Brownsville students to Crozet if an addition is built there. Shifting the children in the Wickham Pond and Western Ridge neighborhoods would transfer 125 students, virtually the whole added capacity. A second option considered was sending students in the Grayrock, Wayland’s Grant and Bargamin Park neighborhoods, a total of 124 kids, back to Crozet, which they were redistricted out of not long ago. Students living north of Lickinghole Creek in Old Trail were also mentioned, as were students living on Crozet Avenue south of town, though both these groups are very near Brownsville. In all, some 380 students now at Brownsville are more or less plausible candidates to be moved to Crozet.
Students who will live in a new subdivision called Westlake Hills are designated for Crozet now because for the time being access to the neighborhood will be through Westhall (which goes to Crozet). Students in Foothill Crossings, now being built on Park Ridge Road near Western Ridge are slated for Brownsville.
“I think the growth projections for Crozet are conservative,” said Davis. “The tough thing will be if growth accelerates before the Crozet Elementary addition can be built.”
Davis brought up other factors bearing on the redistricting decision, namely that continued growth along Rt. 29 North will necessitate construction of a new high school in the Hollymead vicinity. Should that happen, at a cost of $50 to $100 million, Davis estimated, it would force a countywide redrawing of feeder patterns and attendance zones. Davis said he had been inspecting potential sites for a new high school earlier in the day.
Possible adjustments in that scenario would be adding on to Henley Middle School and Western Albemarle or to shift students living on Plank Road and Craigs Store Road to Red Hill Elementary, which would also have to be expanded, and thus into the Monticello High School feeder pattern. County school policy forbids students from having bus rides longer than one hour. Other possible shifts are sending children in the Rosemont, Taylors Gap Road, University Housing, or Buckingham Circle areas, now at Murray, to Red Hill.
None of these conjectured construction projects is presently envisioned in the county’s capital spending plans.
Red Hill parent Patrick Bennett said parents of kids in the western feeder pattern should all be happy with their schools. “Red Hill has quite a disparity in the quality of the building compared to the western elementaries,” he said. The southern elementaries all need modernization, he said.
The committee balked at the idea that students could be moved into new schools when they are in upper grades. Frank called for thrifty decisions in the meantime so that more money will be available when the new construction becomes inevitable.
With this prospect in mind, the committee inclined to the holding pattern option. Committee member Keith Hammon, formerly the principal at Woodbrook Elementary, said, “I’m having trouble moving kids. No change means staffing stays the same. I’m not convinced something needs to be done.” Younger agreed that a compelling reason was lacking.
The committee will take public comment on options at a meeting Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 6:30 p.m. at Meriwether Lewis. It will not deliberate, but listen. School officials will also send an online survey to affected parents the week of the meeting.
The committee will meet again Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Henley Middle School to wrap up its work and forward its recommendation to county school superintendent Pam Moran. She will recommend a course to the School Board in January. The survey and other working documents produced for the redistricting can be accessed online at www.k12albemarle.org.