Community Advisory Committee Hears Local PTO Concerns

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Tom Loach speaking at the CCAC October meeting. Photo: Michael Marshall.

Representatives from the Crozet and Brownsville Elementaries and Henley Middle School PTO’s were on hand to share parent concerns about school overcrowding in advance of a School Board capital proposal to expand Crozet Elementary and redistribute students between the two elementary schools. The Crozet Community Advisory Committee (CCAC) is considering passing a resolution in support of the School Board’s plan and wanted to hear from the PTOs directly before doing so.

Gary Grassi, Brownsville PTO co-president, summarized his community’s unease. “Even if groundbreaking on a Crozet Elementary expansion began tomorrow, [the project’s completion] is still years down the road and that’s a scary proposition,” he said. “We have a number of learning cottages at Brownsville, six extra cottages set up this year, and we wonder how many more we will have to add on in the next five years potentially.”

Busing issues and traffic are also a concern, particularly in the area on Rt. 250 in front of Brownsville and Henley near Old Trail. “I think a big fix would be to increase dependability and access to the buses,” said Grassi. There are also after-school care issues, specifically a lack of sufficient care offered. “Both Brownsville and Crozet went to a lottery system this year, so it’s tough,” he said. “Some families had one child get in and not the other child, so that will hopefully smooth out in the future.”

Equity issues are a worry as well. “We’ve been tagged as ‘level 3’ by the state for our education system,” said Grassi, “which is a danger zone. A lot of the disadvantaged and disabled populations in our area are driving that, so we’d like to help out with the equity issues and try to mainstream these students to help get us out of the probationary period we’re in right now.”

Jessie Sever, the other Brownsville PTO co-president, agreed with the overcrowding problem. “They project that by Christmas, Brownsville will be at 900 students, and there’s uncertainty as to how many students will be added by all of the new construction,” said. “Also, the problems with the dependability of buses is causing an increase in parents driving their kids to school, which is adding to the traffic problems. It’s just a feeding frenzy of a cycle.”

According to school division officials, the school bus dependability problem is being driven by a bus driver shortage, which leads to some drivers driving two routes and children riding for longer times. The shortage also means that substitute drivers who are unfamiliar with the routes are causing delays. “It’s a real problem for parents who can’t be there to wait around if the bus is late, and for kids who need to be dropped off on time for after-school activities,” said one attendee. “It’s compounded by the after-care problem because kids who didn’t get in after-care then have to take the bus.”

Albemarle county public schools chief operating officer Rosalyn Schmitt commented after the meeting on recently reported 10-day enrollment numbers, which showed 239 more students enrolled than projected county-wide at the beginning of the current school year. “The projections were done last fall, so they do not include actual kindergarten registrations, which open in March,” she said. “However, the schools are staffed based on registrations, so they are all staffed appropriately by the time they open.”

Kindergarten enrollment is invariably difficult to project because it is based on live birth data in the county five years prior to the enrollment year. Even so, the comparison of kindergarten enrollments to prior births is almost always in the 99% range, meaning slightly fewer enrollments than births. “This year we saw a tremendous spike, and the kindergarten class is 105% of those prior birth numbers, so the wild card question is whether that’s a trend or an anomaly,” said Schmitt.

While Brownsville and Crozet schools were +17 and -10, respectively, on actual versus projected enrollment, the big outliers were Cale (+90) and Stone-Robinson (+60), which Schmitt suspected were driven by new development in those school districts. “In Crozet, we usually have a good handle on the impacts of new single-family homes, but the unpredictable piece is what all of the new apartments to do to enrollment numbers, as we don’t have a good pattern to derive from,” she said.

Bus service update

Crozet Connect, JAUNT’s new bus service for Crozet-to-Charlottesville commuters, has been running for two months and has launched with “tremendous success,” according to JAUNT officials at the October 9 CCAC meeting. Stephen Johnson, JAUNT’s planning manager, reported that the service has provided 2,400 rides, which is 26,000 miles of vehicle traffic eliminated, and 11.5 tons of CO2 emissions avoided as well.

“It won’t be long before we’ll have to be looking for bigger vehicles,” said Johnson. Residents have been vocal in giving feedback about the service, requesting adjustments to the schedule to accommodate varying work times and restrictions on riders such as parents who need to supervise children onto school buses in the morning before they ride to work. Johnson said there are differing levels of tolerance as to how long people will wait after work for a ride home.

Based on feedback, JAUNT is considering moving to four return loops in the evenings for greater flexibility, adding a later ride at 7 or 8 p.m. on Fridays for those who stay in town for dinner or an event, and possibly adding a midday service. Two CCAC attendees made a request for a stop at The Meadows. Johnson said that a Crozet Connect revised schedule would be released on October 14 and go into effect on October 28. Visit findyourconnection.org for more information.

A crosstown warning

A representative from the Village of Rivanna Community Advisory Committee visited the CCAC to relate a cautionary tale about their Master Plan process, in light of Crozet’s ongoing Master Plan revision work. The representative described the village’s serious traffic problems along Rt. 250 and from feeder roads from the south, and noted that their Master Plan included specific language prohibiting new development in the area until improvements such as widening Rt. 250, fixing the interchange at Rt. 250 and I-64, or other traffic solutions could be enacted. 

Nonetheless, a development application for 200 new units in Breezy Hill on the village’s east side has reached the planning commission without a push by the county to improve the roads, despite more than 200 residents protesting at meetings with the developer and complaints to the county. Rivanna’s message to Crozet is that “it is critical to have clear language in your Master Plan, and to guard it and defend it, or else it becomes meaningless.” 

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