The Fairfax County School Board approved the FY 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) on Jan. 24, and the much talked about boundary adjustment to relieve the overcrowded McLean High School didn’t make the cut.
The CIP shows that McLean High School is currently at 114 percent of its capacity, with projections showing the population increasing to 127 percent by 2022. Meanwhile, the nearby Langley High School sits at 82 percent capacity following an extensive renovation.
Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative on the School Board, had been spearheading the effort to make the boundary adjustments but faced pushback from other School Board members. Strauss confirmed that the boundary adjustment wasn’t docketed in the CIP and the boundary change won’t happen until the 2022-2023 school year at the earliest, and that’s assuming the item is successfully added to next year’s CIP.
Strauss said the growth of Tysons is going to continue fueling expansion in nearby schools, and the schools are caught between the urgency of that growth and taking time to start the shifts as early as possible to keep school groups together.
“The tall high-rises are not producing kids, but existing housing stock is,” said Strauss, nothing that committed workforce affordable housing included in some of the new developments will likely mean an increase in students as well. “Drive around the greater Tysons area and there are other apartment complexes now because of the Silver Line. As job opportunities grow, the whole region will be a better place to live.”
Other school board members said they were uncomfortable approving a spot-boundary change before the School Board conducts a broader boundary examination 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, at a Jan. 14 work session. “We’re going to have to do what staff has been advocating, doing a holistic approach to [the] system and looking at the impacts.”
Some McLean High School parents were unenthusiastic about the School Board’s decision.
“Sadly, no concrete proposals to address [McLean High School] crowding were added with the final revisions,” said Susan Garrahan, a parent to a McLean High School sophomore. “Some other Board members countered that the McLean-Langley boundary adjustment study should be rolled into a countywide boundary project set to start in late February, and that is what happened. Perhaps this will lead to a remedy for MHS on the same timetable as if it were just a McLean-Langley boundary adjustment project, but if it takes longer as part of a countywide project — and I think that is likely — it will be the students and staff who pay the price of overcrowding every additional day that it takes.”
Strauss also noted that this boundary is a more specific adjustment between neighboring schools than what is usually covered in the broader boundary changes.
“In some cases, boundary changes cast a wide net across multiple schools,” said Strauss. “Looking at the CIP, it shows that Langley High School has room.”
Furthermore, if Langley High School remains below its capacity, Strauss said its class choices might be more limited than other high schools.
“When schools are under-enrolled, you start to have staffing concerns,” said Strauss. “If you’re under-enrolled and yet still have a desire to offer certain languages or electives, you have to hire teachers [for those classes]. But if you’re under-enrolled, you’re not automatically considered for hiring new teachers. There is a benefit [of the boundary change] for an under-enrolled school.”
Though the boundary changes aren’t on the table for short-term changes, Strauss said new modular additions are still possible for the school.
“We can take those out where they are no longer needed and move them,” said Strauss. “There’s always enough funding in the CIP for that.”
Whether or not the School Board is involved in official plans to make boundary changes, Strauss said she is still planning on meeting with the community to develop solutions.
A McLean High School Parent Teacher Student Association meeting on overcrowding is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. at McLean High School, though as happened earlier this month, icy conditions could postpone the meeting. Strauss said she plans to meet with Langley High School parents for a similar discussion in March.
Photo via McLean High School PTSA