County school officials closer to settling boundaries

Despite an outcry from frustrated parents who rejected the initial proposed county public high school boundaries for 2004 at two community meetings in May, the final recommendations made to the School Board on Wednesday night were strikingly similar to the original proposal.

County school officials are redrawing high school boundaries to accommodate two new high schools scheduled to open in September 2004: one in Woodbridge along Neabsco Mills Road and another along U.S. 15 near Gainesville.

Part of the planning process for new school boundaries includes gathering feedback from the community; however, no residents chose to speak regarding the boundaries during citizens’ comment time at the meeting.

Last month, several residents in Neabsco Hills and Highbridge subdivisions said they did not like the original proposal because the boundary shift moved their neighborhoods from the Forest Park High School attendance area to Gar-Field High School’s.

Also, some residents in the Springwoods area along Old Bridge Road argued at a community meeting that the boundary change moved their children from Woodbridge High School, located one to two miles from their neighborhoods, to Osbourn Park High School, located about 10 miles from their homes.

School Board member Mary Williams, representing Neabsco, said she will be meeting with parents in her district June 22 to address a possible change to the boundaries prior to the School Board’s vote June 26. She did not know what time or where the meeting would be held.

“We’re going to offer them some options if we can get the other School Board members to buy it,” Williams said.

The School Board can amend the boundaries on the day of the vote.

One of the goals of the boundaries process was to relieve overcrowding at Woodbridge High School and other eastern county high schools, according to David Beavers, a planning analyst with Prince William County Public Schools, who gave the presentation to the School Board.

Superintendent Edward L. Kelly said the planning office considered all of the community feedback when making the recommendation but could not balance the enrollment projections. “I understand why some people do not want to be moved. The changes would throw out the numbers,” he said.

School Board member Steven Keen, representing Woodbridge, noted a disparity in the 2011 enrollment projections between eastern county high schools, which will be at average 103 percent utilized, and western county high schools, at 93 percent.

Robert Ferrebee, associate superintendent for management, said the school system will probably consider building an 11th high school near the eastern part of the county in 2010 or 2011.

“There is no doubt that we are going to need another high school on the east end of the county,” Kelly said. He also noted that it will be difficult to find a place in well-developed eastern Prince William to build a large high school. “We’ll have to be creative with that … a 15-story building [maybe],” he said.

Generally, under the final proposed boundaries:

clusters of students living within the Potomac, Gar-Field and Woodbridge high school boundaries will be sent to the new school on Neabsco Mills Road;

near Manassas, students living within the current Stonewall Jackson boundaries north of U.S. 29 will attend the new school in Catharpin;

and a group of students living south of U.S. 29 and west of John Marshall Highway, who are in the current Brentsville District, will also attend the new school along U.S. 15.

Brentsville Road will serve as the east-west boundary between Stonewall and Brentsville District high schools.

In 2004, students starting the ninth and 10th grades will be required to attend the new schools, but students going into 11th grade will have a one-time choice to either attend a new school or remain at their current school. There will be no 12th grade at both new high schools for the first year to allow seniors to graduate from their current school.

While the boundaries are redrawn to fill space at the new schools, some students will have to move between existing schools. For example, children living in the current Stonewall Jackson High School attendance area will attend Brentsville District High School in 2004. However, these changes will only affect those entering ninth grade.

The proposed boundaries can be viewed at planning/hs04 or at the planning office at the administration building at Independent Hill. A public hearing will be held on June 26 at 6 p.m. in the School Board meeting room at Independent Hill.

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