Tuesday, July 28, 2015

More Information on Mt. Daniel, but no Plan B

Some additional detail is now available on the reasons the Fairfax County Planning Commission deferred its decision on the Mt. Daniel expansion until September, at the request of FCCPS.  Superintendent Jones on Friday published an update that explains the steps the FCCPS took to obtain approval, and why it asked to have the matter deferred – in short, because there was insufficient time for the Fairfax County commissioners to study the material produced by FCCPS, and FCCPS also wanted to prepare material to answer additional questions.  You can find Dr. Jones’ report here:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RPolHf9M1KJPJyrovtNxYFRxBawSoq0bf4gu8U6CwAE/edit

Dr. Jones also talked about Plan A to obtain additional space for elementary school facilities – doing additional work to obtain the approval of the Fairfax County Planning Commission for Mt. Daniel.  I believe this is right – considerable resources have already been committed both in design and in funding the plan through a bond referendum – and other options likely bring even more delay and temporary overcrowding.  Even so, the likelihood of success is at best unclear.  Dr. Jones spoke about working with the Mt. Daniel neighbors and legal counsel to try to get the project moving, but the questions from School Board members regarding what would be done differently in order to obtain approval were unanswered.  I might summarize Plan A as “work harder and provide time for further review.”  One School Board member thought success was not close to being assured.

With this uncertainty, two School Board members spoke the need for alternative solutions, or a Plan B.  But no Plan B was discussed, at least in the open session (there was another closed session for the stated purpose of consulting with legal counsel, and I do not know what was discussed in that session).  Hope is not a strategy.  Thomas Jefferson was recently expanded, but not to a sufficient size that would allow 2nd grade to remain there for long given enrollment projections, and I suspect expanding TJ again might be very expensive or impossible.  The Request for Proposals for the George Mason/Mary Ellen Henderson expansion project has just been released, but without any language that would obtain proposals for adding an additional grade or two at the MEH site as an option – it is likely that adding that option in the future would cause further delay.

It’s time to start work on a Plan B now, even with the possibility that the Fairfax County Planning Commission might approve the current expansion plans.  Developing a strategy now could help reduce delay should the Planning Commission vote “no.”  And some options, such as an another RFP seeking to swap the Mt. Daniel land for other land and construction of an Elementary School within Falls Church City, could take some time.  I do not know if that particular option is feasible, but at least some brainstorming of possibilities is worthwhile.

Now for the good news – Dr. Jones said at last night’s School Board meeting that with the large class of rising 2nd graders moving to Thomas Jefferson, and the likely smaller class of kindergartners, Mt. Daniel may get its music room back next year.  A small victory, but a valuable one.

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