Fairfax County School Board members have delayed a vote on proposed school construction funding until the May 9 board meeting to take a deeper look at utilizing the bond referendum.
“The attempt was to get a little bit of help for Falls Church High School without making any negative impact on any project that’s already in the [school renovations] queue,” said School Board member Sandy Evans (Mason District), who proposed the vote delay during a board business meeting last week. “I would like to remind everybody that this is our last legacy school that hasn’t had any bond money for anything… We’ve started four of our five legacy schools on that road, but Falls Church still isn’t on here.
“Legacy schools” is a term used for Fairfax County’s public high schools that were constructed in the 1960s and have never received complete renovations. Legacy schools include Langley, West Springfield, Herndon, Oakton and Falls Church high schools.
“Langley will be under construction in the spring of 2014. West Springfield is in planning and will be under construction in 2016,” said Kevin Sneed, director of the school system’s Design and Construction Services office. “Both Herndon and Oakton have planning funding on the upcoming bond and will be under construction in 2017 and 2018, respectively. Falls Church will follow shortly after Oakton. In less than 10 years we will have completed the full renovation of the legacy high schools.”
Evans said delaying a vote on the bond referendum could allow the School Board to consider making Falls Church renovation plans a priority.
“What the proposal would do is to take anything that was unexpected savings from lower bids and try to put that into some planning money for Falls Church High School that will hopefully get them ready for whenever their turn would come,” she said.
Fellow School Board member Patty Reed (Providence District) agreed saying, “We’ve been very concerned about Falls Church High School for a very long time... A precedent has been set for using savings when Mr. [now-retired Chief Operating Officer Dean] Tistadt used it to fund some needed restroom repairs in several schools.”
Delaying the vote on the bond referendum received narrow approval by the School Board in a 6-5 vote with one member, Ryan McElveen (At-large), abstaining from voting. Contention on the vote arose because some School Board members said funding for Falls Church High School renovation planning could be discussed if and when there were savings under the bond.
“The motion tonight is really to simply seek the authority to sell bonds, and that’s it,” School Board member Jane Strauss (Dranesville District) said.
Sully District School Board member Kathy Smith said, “[Delaying the vote] doesn’t help this process. By pushing this off, it’s just pushing workload into the future that we could deal with tonight.”
While the School Board votes on a bond referendum, this vote serves not as approval of bond funding but rather a formal request to the Board of Supervisors to include a bond referendum on the General Election ballot in November. Ultimate approval of bond referenda is a voter choice.
Under the last voter-approved school bond referendum in November 2011, the school system request totaled $252.7 million. The bond was passed with 70 percent of the vote. This coming Election Day, Nov. 5, the School Board hopes voters will see on their ballots and approve a $359.1 million bond referendum.
The funding request includes money for two new elementary schools, one in the Route 1 corridor and another in eastern Fairfax; renovations to 17 elementary and two middle schools; and capacity enhancements at South Lakes High School and a Tysons Corner area elementary school, likely Westbriar. The bond also includes money to acquire land for a future high school in the southwestern part of the county.
School Board members approving the delay included Evans, Reed, Elizabeth Schultz (Springfield District), Megan McLaughlin (Braddock District), Dan Storck (Mount Vernon District) and Patricia Hynes (Hunter Mill District).
“There’s a value in having this discussion,” Schultz said. “We could end up doing better work if we postpone this until May 9.”