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Western Schools Task Force

A Proposal by Blue Ridge Supervisor Jim Burton

6 February 2007

Background

During the last year, there have been numerous calls by elected officials and citizens for greater participation in decisions about Western schools, both strategy and site selection. There are certain activities that need to take place in camera, such as negotiating the purchase of specific properties. However, there are also areas in which a formal joint planning process might take place.

On the evening of November 30, 2006 School Board Chairman Robert Dupree invited elected officials from the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, and each of the Towns to a public meeting on the topic of future school needs in Western Loudoun. Chairman Dupree advertised this meeting as an effort to initiate an on-going dialogue with these parties on the School Board’s future strategy for meeting Western Loudoun’s school needs. I attended that meeting and felt the dialogue between the parties was very helpful as was the dialogue I had with citizens in the audience afterwards.

Based on comments made during the meeting and my conversation with the citizens afterwards, I would like to suggest a process for ensuring that conversation continues.

Proposal

I propose the establishment of a Western School Strategy Task Force made up of representatives from the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, the Mayors of the incorporated Towns, and three members of the public.

Task Force Purpose

The purpose of the task force is to explore possible strategies for Western school growth and site selection. Areas of exploration might include

  • school size: size vs. cost debate, cluster-school size symmetry
  • school design: “cookie cutter,” site-specific design, design-build, etc.
  • clustering: standard clustering, no clustering, clustering plus specialty schools
  • year-round schooling
  • interim solutions for the overcrowding of Loudoun Valley, Harmony, & Blue Ridge during the 2007-2008 school year and, if necessary, during the 2008-2009 school year.
  • preferred locations: in what general geographic areas should schools be sited; what criteria should the School Board use for site selection; review current policies and standards for school siting; etc.

Task Force Membership

I propose allocating the seats on the Task Force as follows: 2 School Board members who represent Western Loudoun, 2 Supervisors who represent Western Loudoun, the Mayors of the incorporated Towns, and 3 Western Loudoun citizens. The School Board, the Board of Supervisors, and COLT would each appoint one (1) citizen from Western Loudoun.

Task Force Schedule

I propose establishing the Task Force no later than February 5, 2007 with the first meeting to be held no later than February 28, 2007. At the first meeting I would propose that the School Board present the analysis it performed in 2004 on the first three bullet points under “Task Force Purpose” and the conclusions drawn from that analysis. The Task Force could then determine whether it wished to pursue those issues further or endorse the decisions of the School Board.

I further propose that the Task Force make an initial public report ninety days after its first meeting and a final report 180 days after its first meeting. Ideally, I hope that the Task Force may transform itself into an ongoing Advisory Board to the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, the Towns, and the public.

Task Force Support

I propose that each of the official entities – the School Board, the Board of Supervisors, and the Towns through COLT – contribute staff in support of the Task Force’s efforts. Such support might include FTE’s with expertise in planning, engineering, transportation, and finance.  

Conclusion

I believe that this approach can help to further increase communications between all the stakeholders and to generate significant creativity in the thinking about our Western school system. As one citizen said to me last week, “We’re always talking about what a special place Western Loudoun is, how it is different from the East, shouldn’t its schools reflect that difference?” It is my belief that this Task Force could define that difference and create a strategy for synchronizing that difference with the delivery of public education in the West, concurrent with the provision of a significant forum for continuous and open discussion. I therefore hope that this proposal will meet with the support of my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, the School Board, the various Mayors and Town Councils, and all interested citizens.