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Guest Column: New High School Proposal Will Reverse Contentious 2008 Redistricting

The contentious 2008 redistricting divided communities and resulted in a lawsuit.

• By Dan Carney

IBM, it used to be said by the company’s beleaguered employees, stands for “I’ve Been Moved.” It seems like families in western Fairfax county are all secret IBMers, so frequently does the school board enjoy moving its chess pieces, er, students, among schools.

This means you, if you live in a school district that attends Centreville, Chantilly or South Lakes high schools. Probably Oakton too, based on my reading of the map. Time to dump all that spirit wear you had accumulated in support of the home team. Remember, the hats and sweatshirts you bought to replace the gear from the previous home team? You might need that back now.

Oh, hadn’t you heard? The county is building a new high school west of Centreville H.S. The inevitable result of this construction will be a near-complete reversal of the board’s bitterly opposed redistricting of these schools in 2008.

Opponents said at the time the solution to overcrowding was a new school. The board preferred to uproot families from their traditional schools because there was some capacity at South Lakes at the time. Now, they admit, they were wrong. Never mind. Everyone go back to where you started.

That’s because the redistricting suffered exactly the shortcomings opponents identified at the time and delivered none of the promised benefits. The apparent excess capacity at South Lakes evaporated when the recession changed Reston families’ plans to send their kids to private schools, leaving the freshly refurbished building backed by trailers.

The board announced plans for a new high school to be built west of Centreville H.S. in an elaborate news conference where they issued a mea culpa, after having discussed the matter with members of the community, in search of the best solution for overcrowding at several county schools.

Ha! No they didn’t. Not the Fairfax County School Board. No, in typical fashion, they issued a quiet press release about the budget that happened to include plans for three new elementary schools and a high school. No news here, move along.

They issued this release on a Friday afternoon, shortly before the close of business for the weekend. To make extra sure no one noticed, they chose the Friday afternoon of December 21, knowing that few people would be doing any business until January 2. To what must have been their huge relief, it worked.

A primary justification for the 2008 redistricting was to relieve overcrowding at Chantilly, Centreville and Oakton high schools. They also wanted to reduce the student population at the county’s newest school, Westfield, not because it was overcrowded, but because the board arbitrarily decided it had been built too large.

Now Centreville, Chantilly and South Lakes are overcrowded and getting worse. The new school will share borders with Centreville and Chantilly, so some of the kids who live on the south and west sides of those schools can probably expect a chance to go to a nice new school.

South Lakes is a bigger problem for several reasons. It is more overcrowded and the problem is getting worse quicker because of new construction in Reston. But it is nowhere near the planned new school. So kids will need to be shifted out of South Lakes into other schools, which will then shift some kids into the new school.

The western-most neighborhoods are Fox Mill Estates and Floris, which used to attend Oakton and Westfield, respectively. Those neighborhoods could be shifted to Chantilly, with extra kids sent to the new school from there to make room for them. 

But then they would form a one of the so-called attendance “islands,” which the board says it wants to avoid. To avoid that, they would need to move the neighborhoods along West Ox Road back to Chantilly, where they were before the 2008 debacle, and move Fox Mill back in to Oakton to fill the vacancy they would leave.

Floris could go back to Westfield. In fact, because Westfield is currently below its design capacity and South Lakes is already nearly 200 kids over its capacity, the board could make that move immediately to remedy the damage it inflicted with the redistricting. You can see the facts about capacity and enrollment here: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/dashboard/12-13dashboard.html

The kids who move to the new school from Centreville and Chantilly will probably be happy to be in a new school that isn’t overcrowded. Whatever resistance the board encounters will be from families that were just moved and are now being told they have to switch back to the previous school.

The board told us in 2008 that state law prohibits changing boundaries back for a decade after they are moved, ostensibly to prevent just these kinds of whipsaw changes, but actually to prevent angry parents from voting out boards and changing boundaries back.

Building a new school eliminates that restriction, so the boundaries can shift as needed. Trouble is the new school won’t be built for a while and the schools are overcrowded now. The county could make the new boundaries immediate to start shifting the kids they can move out of South Lakes right away. Or, at the very least, they could give families in those neighborhoods the option to go to either, as buses to Westfield and Oakton already skirt the Floris and Fox Mill Estates neighborhoods.

No matter how the details are ultimately settled, the outcome is a complete renunciation of the board’s 2008 policy and vindication of the restricting opponents’ point that the only solution to overcrowding is new construction.

So start packing IBMers, you’ve been moved again. Send your thank-you notes to the members of the 2008 school board.

[Have an opinion you'd like to share? Email you letter to the editor at Leslie@Patch.com, or start a Herndon Patch blog by clicking here.]

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