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Staff, Public to Revamp School Renovation Criteria

Fairfax County School Board disagrees on whether slight changes or drastic shift necessary for system's method

A review of how schools are ranked on Fairfax County Public Schools' building renovation queue will be done through a combination of community input and staff review rather than a task force or independent consultant, board members decided at a work session Monday.

The board develops , which includes new schools, renovations, capacity enhancements, additions and infrastructure management.

Schools receive improvements in the order in which they're ranked on the system's renovation queue, driven by a list of weighted criteria ranging from how the buildings serve "Fundamental Educational Requirements (FER)," including whether they are under or over capacity, to their age and physical condition.

In 2008, when the board last approved its list of criteria, it also agreed to re-evaluate schools in the queue whose projects have not yet been covered in bonds. In the past year, as the board has approached that five-year review period, several members and parents — many of them from Falls Church High School — ; in the case of FCHS, whether a school is over- or under-enrolled.

Sixty-three of FPCS' 194 schools and centers are currently in the queue, FCPS chief operating officer Dean Tistadt said Monday. The new criteria will affect the roughly 40 buildings whose projects aren't covered by bonds issued in 2009, 2011 or 2013.

While board members and schools staff agreed community involvement was crucial at some point in the process, they had different views on whether the board needed to make slight changes to what they have already been doing or more drastically shift their method.

Some board members argued FCPS staff was capable of handling the kind of changes the queue requires.

Megan McLaughlin (Braddock) said the largest community complaints are coming from schools currently under-enrolled, a factor they think weighs too heavily in the ranking process.

"Those are very slight things that can adjust slightly, and I think staff is capable of doing that," she said.

Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield) said the way schools are evaluated need a "paradigm shift," one that requires an approach entirely different from what the board has done before — work best done by a consultant.

"We need to come at this from a completely different perspective," Schultz said. "It is an unfair and unreasonable burden to expect staff to completely adapt to a different look at that which they have already done."

Tistadt had proposed a citizen task force early in the process, under the direction of the Facilities Planning Advisory Council. 

The board's decision at Monday's work session abandons that idea — along with giving the task to FPAC, already tasked with developing and updating annually a long-term strategic planning process for FCPS facilities — for a combination of community input and staff review.

Tistadt, while acknowledging the queue's imperfections, stressed it offers a de-politicized method of determining facilities needs. He said there have been few pushbacks from schools currently on the list.

"I don't think we should overreact to the those communities [that are pushing back]," Tistadt said. "This isn't us saying, 'This shouldn't be renovated.' It's us saying, 'We don't have the money to get to you as quickly as we'd like.' ... We don't have the amount of money we need to make renovations so we have to make hard choices."

The five-year plan for 2013-2017, which the board approved in December,  totals $848.5 million — but already doesn't keep pace with aging infrastructure and unprecedented population increasesm Tistadt said this spring. by the 2016-2017 school year, compared ; much of that growth is concentrated in kindergarten and early elementary classes that will rise to already-crowded middle and high schools.

School board members have worried about what that means for a waiting time that is already two to three years long.

To keep up at that pace, let alone move faster, the system would need to complete $205 million a year in improvements and new buildings — $50 million more per year than the current limit allowed through Fairfax County's bond process.

Patty Reed (Providence) said perhaps the board needed to avoid having "big winners and losers" by tackling one school at a time and instead complete smaller, high-priority projects across the county each year, which would spread money over more schools each year.

"I'm not sure that I agree that we're doing things the best way we can given where we are," Reed said. "To me that's a fundamental question: Do we want things to keep going the way they are or do we want to do it differently?"

Ryan McElveen (At-large) said he does not think the eventual changes to the renovation queue would be as significant as the changes to how the renovations are funded.

"And that's a completely different discussion," McElveen said.

T-Bird July 17, 2012 at 02:18 PM
I love how the Community Services Board, which manages assistance to those in need, needed $5 million for 5 years to keep most of their programs running, and all the teabaggers and tax haters screamed murder. But the school board wants to spend A BILLION DOLLARS on making their schoos pretty and nobody even flinches. Shows you where their priorities are. Everybody wants to claim the high ground, but in the end, you are just all out for yourselves. And you would let people starve or freeze to death so your child could have new floor tile in their classroom. I hope the religious types are right, and one day we will all be judged.
Greg Brandon July 17, 2012 at 02:35 PM
I think this is a move in the right direction. For one thing, I doubt that the current, seemingly objective process of assigning schools to the renovation queue is all that objective. More importantly, it gives schools like Falls Church High School a real shot at advancing on the queue. Part of that school's lagging enrollment numbers are probably a result of the physical condition of the building. It may not play a major factor in every family's decision to leave the school but it is a factor somewhere on their list of "Cons." Invest in the bricks & mortar part of Falls Church High School and enrollment will eventually improve, assuming, of course, all other factors -- chief among them, school-wide academic performance -- are equal.
Skip Endale July 17, 2012 at 02:44 PM
Driving past Lake Anne Elementary during recent months I noticed that many of the class rooms appear to be trailers. A few weeks later I noticed construction going on and pretty soon there was a very nice building there too, so I thought this is great - they have expanded the school. What I soon realized is that this is not a school but it is a nearby church that pretty much sits empty for much of the week. Shocking but true, religion appears to take priority over education in this country. How sad...
T-Bird July 17, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Greg - who exactly is Falls Church High School competing with that they need to attract people with a flashy new interior? It's a public school, not a business. Why MUST the enrollment increase? Where would these students choose to go to? Other FCPS schools most likely, yes? So what's your point? You expect us to spend millions on something you even admit is probably not a major factor? Seems to me FCPS has an obsession with maximizing enrollment. The only reason I can think of for this is that it justifies the ever fattening of their budget.
Sidney K. July 17, 2012 at 06:36 PM
Skip....I just wanted to inform you that Lake Anne has been undergoing a renovation for the past year and a half and wil be completed by the end of the summer before school starts. That is the reason the trailers were on the property so the upper grades could go to classes while the rest of the building was redone. All of the trailers will be gone by September and they will no longer be an eyesore.
Sidney K. July 17, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Fox Mill elementary needs a complete overhaul....it looks as if it is stuck in a time warp from the 70's.....such a shame to look like that when its a top notch school for SOL test scores....
J J Madden July 17, 2012 at 06:42 PM
This is a good opportunity for the schools to start using a rubric to rank renovations and their value based on benefits and costs. Perhaps purely cosmetic improvements would have less weight. Others would rank higher - such as adding sidewalks. Not only do they allow kids to walk and bike to school, sidewalks save taxpayers money since fewer kids need to be bused, plus the whole community benefits from the opportunity for better health and less need for a car. BTW - I don't think school-neighborhood connectivity has either been required or considered in the past.
Rob Jackson July 17, 2012 at 07:35 PM
This makes sense to me. Given the level of real estate taxes paid in Fairfax County, it is important for FCPS to make a good effort at keeping up the condition of the physical plant. Run-down schools don't create an incentive to live within the boundary areas. Not much within FCPS is truly objective, so your conclusion on the renovation queue process doesn't require a big leap of faith. And of course, we would have more money for school construction projects except for the fact that the County will not follow its cash target proffer policy.
KH July 17, 2012 at 09:45 PM
Good points, Greg. T-Bird, I don't think you realize exactly how unfair it is to students to have to take classes in sub-par classrooms and labs. How would you perform at your job if the room temperature was highly uncomfortable? How would you perform if you didn't have the correct tools (as in a lab)? Every school near Falls Church has been renovated and the promise for its renovation in 2014 got pushed down to 2025 due to the flawed CIP criteria. The legacy high schools need attention NOW. Scale back the plans and make the $ go further.
Pen Name August 05, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Patty Reed's statement makes sense to me. There are some schools that "win" too big. TJHSST is slated for a $100+ million renovation and also raising $10 million more for equipment. There is only so much money. Too much private money and taxpayer funds go into one location: TJHSST.
Pen Name August 05, 2012 at 12:45 AM
http://tjpartnershipfund.org/renovation.html Within the link, there is also a link to their brochure for the $10 million of equipment. Why have we assumed that such schools and expenditures create a changed educational outcome? Recent studies indicate that for motivated and bright exam school students such schooling does not make a significant difference.

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