Proposal to Redistrict McLean Schools Faces Pushback

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) is finalizing the details of an updated Capital Improvement Program (CIP), giving a look at what the future holds for the Tysons area.

While total student population in FCPS has gone down by 1,011 students this year, projections show schools in the Tysons are becoming increasingly crowded. One of the most immediate concerns for the region is overcrowding at McLean High School.

At a Jan. 14 work session, School Board Member Jane Strauss called for a limited boundary study to move students from Longfellow Middle School and McLean High School to the nearby Cooper Middle School and Langley High School attendance area.

“The boundary study would primarily focus on the north end of the Tysons area where we have some older apartment buildings,” said Strauss. “These are not new high rises, but older family-friendly buildings.”

Strauss said the change would impact students currently zoned for Spring Hill Elementary School. The change would also not take place until school year 2020 to allow more discussions with parents and planning.

“McLean High School is overcrowded now, and projected to be more so over time as a result of project growth in Tysons,” said Strauss. “If you look at Langley’s capacity, they are under-enrolled now and that will continue, so there is plenty of room. If we don’t do this, that means more trailers and possibly a module at [McLean]. If our goal is a reduction of reliance on trailers and modules, this boundary change I think is a good use of space and money.”

But the proposal received some pushback from other members of the School Board, who said they were uncomfortable with a spot-boundary change a month before the School Board is scheduled to begin a broader review of school boundaries.

“Before we talk about individual boundaries, we do have scheduled as a School Board to [take a] holistic [approach] to how we look at boundary changes,” said School Board Member Karen Sanders.

The School Board is scheduled to vote on the CIP on Jan. 24 and begin looking at boundary changes on Feb. 25.

“I do have concerns about doing a limited boundary change in one area without taking a more holistic analysis and approach,” said Tamara Derenak Kaufax, a representative from the Lee District. “We’re going to have to do what staff has been advocating, doing a holistic approach to [the] system and looking at the impacts.”

Dalia Palchik, School Board representative for the Providence District and a candidate for the Board of Supervisors, also said the idea of adding the boundary change 10 days before the School Board votes on the CIP gave her pause.

Palchik also inquired about the proposed Tysons Elementary School, a facility planned to help handle new residential developments in Tysons, but one that is currently unfunded with few details publicly available.

“We have that in our 10-year plan and the site is identified on our map,” said Kevin Sneed, Special Projects Administrator for Facilities and Transportation Services. “Build-out will last through 2030, which is about when we show this school opening. When we start seeing the yield of students, other schools won’t have the capacity to support them.”

Megan McLaughlin, a School Board member representing the Braddock District, said she had concerns that the county is underestimating the number of new students those new developments will bring in. She urged staff to re-examine its strategy for extracting concessions from developers, commonly known as “proffers.”

“I’ve asked staff to look at existing houses and use the proffer formula for how many students [were projected] to come out of a building and how many we actually ended up having,” said McLaughlin. “We need to be better at examining how many students [new developments] yield.”

McLaughlin said this happened for a smaller development in her area, but was concerned that as new development comes into areas like Tysons and McLean, the impact of those enrollment projections being off could magnify.

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