The Prince William County School Board voted 7-1 to approve new elementary school boundaries at a meeting Wednesday where the board heard from about 60 parents and community members.
The new boundaries will affect eastern and central Prince William County starting next school year, impacting thousands of students.
School division staff developed a preliminary plan and a volunteer group of community members from the Woodbridge, Neabsco and Occoquan districts helped develop further plans last fall, followed by two community meetings for parents to provide more input.
At a meeting that began at 7 p.m., school board members continued discussing the proposed boundaries, debating whether it was better to create boundaries that eliminate 61 trailers or to take into account public input centered around concerns such as keeping communities together, not increasing driving time on busy Old Bridge Road, accommodating walkers and more.
The majority of parents and community members spoke on Wednesday in favor of boundary plans that were fine-tuned by the three school board members whose districts are affected by the rezoning proposal: Lillie Jessie, who represents the Occoquan district; Loree Williams, who represents the Woodbridge district; and Diane Raulston, who represents the Neabsco district.
“The three of us did our homework,” Jessie said.
Sarah Trevino — who has a first grader who attends at Rockledge Elementary — spoke in favor of the plan developed by the three board members.
She said removing trailers should not be the only consideration for boundary changes. Student success is fueled by teachers, stability and other factors, and not whether they learn in a trailer, she said.
At around 12:20 a.m. the crowd of 120 people had dwindled down to about 60 people intent on hearing how the school board voted.
“I hope that my board members have paid attention tonight,” Williams said before the board voted. “Keep this traditional by listening to the members whose districts are affected. We live there. We walked [the area]. We were elected. I really implore you to take that into consideration.”
The school board adopted a plan that had last-minute revisions, including a “Rockledge compromise,” which aims to decrease the percentage capacity at that school. The board also voted to allow rising fourth and fifth grade students to remain at Rockledge Elementary if families can provide their own transportation.
The approved boundary plan will remove about 41 of the 61 trailers, according to school division staff. That means 20 trailers will be in use throughout the affected elementary schools in the 2019-20 school year.
School board member Willie Deutsch, who represents the Coles district, said the school division planned for the new elementary school and additions to reduce overcrowding in eastern Prince William County. He was the only board member to vote against the boundary plans.
“There’s been comments that we’re focused on numbers, not people,” he said. “However, the entirety of the board, we’ve been focused on trailers. Trailers is not ignoring students. In fact, we’ve had board members who are trying to reduce trailers.”
A joint committee that includes some school board members and some Prince William County Supervisors pitched in the fall a $143 million plan in additional funding for the school division’s 10-year capital improvement plan that aims to reduce the divisions’ 206 trailers. The school board and board of county supervisors are set to weigh in on that plan in the coming months as the two boards discuss updating the planned capital projects and approving next year’s budget.
Boundary changes are not the only way to reduce trailers, Jessie said.
“It is our duty to do better,” she said. “We are all intelligent human beings. We have the intelligence to think outside of the box. Our two longer serving members, I wish y’all would help think outside the box. We know our county is changing. This is not the end-all, be-all to reduce trailers.”
The school division needed new boundaries, because the school division is set to open a new elementary school that is being built on the Prince William Parkway, as well as new additions at Antietam, Lake Ridge, Springwoods, and Minnieville elementary schools.
The new elementary school is being built near the Chinn Park Regional Library and is set to accommodate 710 students. In total, the additions at the other schools add about 49 additional classrooms; 13-room additions at Antietam, Lake Ridge and Springwoods elementary schools, and a 10-room addition at Minnieville Elementary.
Cynthia Williams, who has a child at Westridge Elementary, said she believes the school board was successful in coming to a compromise and incorporating the public’s wants and needs.
“It’s unfortunate that the Rockledge community was affected at the last minute,” she said. “However I think they did what they had to to get the motion passed tonight.”
As far as trailers, she said she would rather keep kids together than worry about the number of trailers at a school.