With a series of hefty construction projects on the horizon, the Prince William school board is moving ahead with efforts to better collaborate with county supervisors in planning where to build new schools.
The school board voted unanimously Feb. 1 to appoint three members to a new committee tasked with developing a joint capital improvement program, a group aimed at increasing collaboration between the county and the school division. Acting board member Shawn Brann of the Brentsville District, Vice Chair Lillie Jessie of the Occoquan District and Loree Williams of the Woodbridge District will now represent the school board on the new committee.
The two boards first discussed the issue at a joint meeting on Jan. 10, and members of both agreed that bringing the two sides together could not only help plan construction projects more strategically but also improve the tumultuous relationship between the boards.
County staff originally proposed that two members from each board serve on the committee, but At-Large Chairman Ryan Sawyers said subsequent discussions have changed the proposed make-up of the group. With the three board members expressing interest in joining the committee, he added that it was a simple decision to put them forward.
Supervisors have yet to designate their own representatives to the committee, but they did discuss the matter during a closed session Jan. 24.
With fierce debate raging in the county about how to reduce class sizes and move students out of trailers, the issue of school construction has come to the fore, and the school division has a bevy of efforts planned to keep pace with its influx of new students.
School staffers revealed their plans for a budget for the new fiscal year at the Feb. 1 meeting, which includes some tweaks to its capital improvements program.
The school division is now hoping to add elementary schools near Stonewall Jackson High and in the “Occoquan/Woodbridge area” by 2024, though it is no longer planning to add one to the Vint Hill Road area in the same time period. Planners also hope to add 10 rooms to Minnieville Elementary in 2019.
Staffers are also kicking off the process of building the county’s 15th high school, with plans to set aside money to buy land for the building in 2019 to reach the ultimate goal of opening its doors in 2025. However, they have yet to target a general area where the school might be built.
“That date could slip back further. It really depends on student enrollment numbers through next two or three years,” said Dave Cline, the school division's associate superintendent for finance and support services. “But based on what we’re seeing now, we’ll need it.”
In all, staffers expect the division will spend more than $354 million on building new facilities over the next five years, as well as $29 million to purchase land for those facilities and another $96.3 million on classroom additions.
But Cline also noted that those efforts will only help the division keep pace with projected increases in the county’s student population, not reduce classroom overcrowding.
That’s why the division is also putting forward a “supplemental budget” to show supervisors that the schools will need an additional $307 million to move students completely out of trailers.