Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hard Budget Times Might Mean School Redistricting

As the fiscal outlook for schools get bleaker, there is growing concern about the impact of budget crunch will have on capital improvement projects and the possible redistricting of school lines as some schools are closed and the building of others gets delayed.
As the economic outlook grows increasingly bleak, school systems in the Washington region are delaying construction and even considering shuttering schools, moves that could force wide-scale shuffling of students among campuses and disrupt deep connections that students and families have to neighborhood schools.

This month, Prince George's County's interim superintendent, William R. Hite Jr., proposed closing six under-enrolled schools and parceling out those students to other schools.

Prince William County is considering putting plans for a badly needed high school on hold, a decision that would result in shifting students to balance enrollments.

Loudoun County is facing delayed construction of schools planned for fast-growing neighborhoods and the prospect of closing a handful of under-enrolled schools.

The budget crunch is hitting schools in many ways, forcing increases in class size and cutbacks in staff and programs, but the possibility of uprooting students could be among the most painful for students and their families.

Boundary changes can cause heartache and outrage as students are plucked out of one school and dropped in another, separating them from their friends, teachers, sports teams and clubs. Families that settled in neighborhoods based on the local schools could find that they will be sending their children somewhere unexpected. The changes can be especially hard at the high school level.

"I know a lot of parents here are loading up the pitchforks and shovels now, in case the peasant revolution has to start in January," when proposals for boundaries in Loudoun will be unveiled, said Ed Sugg, whose children attend Little River Elementary School and Mercer Middle School, both in the southeastern part of the county.
There are multiple impacts and not just on class sizes and transportation schedules. While I feel for the families who will be affected (it won't happen to me since I live withing 3/4 of a mile of three elementary schools, the local middle school and the local high schoo, so even if we get redistricted it won't have a material, long term effect on my family), the fact is that our school systems have long ridden a fine line where one major economic blip, like the housing market bubble bursting, could set off a chain reaction of problems, resulting in what school systems now face.

Instead of being fiscally austere, focusing money only on educational programs, we now have school systems that are trying to be everything to everyone, resulting in a reliance by parents on the extra-curricular activities and services provided by the schools, which are the first one hit when economic times get bad.

Really, what did we expect.

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