School Board Debates Earlier Start Date

School Board Debates Earlier Start Date

Six days into the new school year, the School Board disagreed whether to start school before or after Labor Day next year.

Edgar Hatrick, superintendent of schools, said Loudoun could have started before Labor Day this year, because it had enough snow days to justify the move. The General Assembly has adopted a measure giving school districts permission to start before Labor Day if they have a certain number of snow days. The legislature’s formula allows an early start date if the highest number of snow days in five out of 10 years totals 40 or more days. Loudoun’s has fluctuated from two one year to 11 the next. If the county has at least eight snow days this year, it qualifies for a pre-Labor Day start date.

BOARD MEMBERS, however, were divided over whether it is better to start before or after the holiday.

Hatrick told the board it might be better if the district did not flip flop on the issue from year to year.

Joseph Guzman (Sugarland) said he preferred the pre-Labor Day schedule, because it allows for a longer winter break in December. It provides an opportunity for families to spend more time together, he said.

Starting school earlier creates vacation problems for parents whose work is tied to Congress, said Robert DuPree Jr. (Dulles). “I like long winter breaks too, but it’s a trade-off.”

The board will set the 2005-2006 calendar in October. “We’re getting calls already from parents about next year’s calendar,” Hatrick said. “We encourage comment.”

Bob Ohnesier (Broad Run) recommended the board revisit the discussion of possibly closing only the western half of the county when there is inclement weather in that region. Often school is canceled for the entire county, because of icy or snowy conditions in the west. The closings are difficult for single parents and families with two working parents, he said.

Andrews said that subject has been debated repeatedly. He suggested Hatrick provide an explanation about it at a future meeting.

THE BOARD awarded a $12,635,000 contract to Caldwell and Santmyer Inc. to build Legacy Elementary School in Ashburn. Dupree said the school would alleviate overcrowding at Mill Run Elementary School, which has an enrollment of 1,300 students, and Arcola Elementary School, which is over capacity.

Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) noted the increase in building a new school, considering the last one, Belmont Station Elementary School, cost about $9 million.

Ohneiser asked Assistant Superintendent Evan Mohler if it would have cost less if the company had a few extra months to build the school. Caldwell and Santmyer, which has built seven Loudoun schools, has 11 months to complete construction.

Mohler attributed the increase to the escalating costs of materials, such as steel. The short time span also could be a factor. “Last year, we had the lowest elementary- and high-school construction costs in the state. We can’t help but feel fairly proud. …. But we will see the prices go up considerably.”

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the board learned that:

* The school district hired 723 teachers/principals and 355 classified staff members. It still needs to hire a technology teacher and 15 more staff members. Enrollment is 2.6 percent below projections, but more students are expected to sign up before the end of the month. There were 43,561 students as of Tuesday.

* Setting boundaries for Leesburg has been delayed until spring, because it is unclear where the next school will be built. Hatrick said he has asked architects and engineers to develop preliminary plans on the possibility of converting the Loudoun County Public Schools’ North Street office and the Douglass Support Facility into elementary schools. They were public schools before the administration moved into them, and the administration is moving out next year. “It’s becoming clear to everyone that finding sites in Leesburg is very different,” he said. He also said condemnation process could begin soon to build the Sycolin Creek Elementary School in Leesburg. “If we don’t get the property, we won’t be able to open that school next fall,” Hatrick said.