Undeveloped land in Mount Vernon near Richmond Highway that had been eyed for an elementary school is now being considered for an early childhood education center instead.
As part of its approval of the latest Capital Improvements Program (CIP) on Feb. 9, the Fairfax County School Board voted unanimously to reallocate $500,000 in bond funding to the proposed center, which will take the place of a planned Route 1/Pinewood Lakes elementary school.
The money will help Fairfax County Public Schools start planning and designing the facility earlier than previously anticipated in the spending plan, according to School Board Vice Chair Tamara Derenak Kaufax, who represents the Franconia District and proposed the amendment.
“Based on the current budget, this project would have available approximately 15,000 to 20,000 square feet for dedicated classroom use,” Derenak Kaufax said during the board meeting (at the 5:17:33 mark). “The space would allow for up to 400 pre-K, Early Head Start or preschool special education students to gain that critical, strong educational start.”
The center will be located in the Woodlawn neighborhood on 10 acres of land owned by the school board next to Buckman Road near Lakepark Drive. The board also has a smaller, adjacent site at 4300 Keswick Road, but only the larger parcel will be used, Derenak Kaufax told FFXnow.
FCPS first proposed building an elementary school to serve the northern Route 1 corridor in 2013. Voters approved a school bond referendum that November that included nearly $21.2 million for the project — funds still listed in the newly approved CIP for fiscal years 2024-2028 as “projected future project spending.”
However, after the referendum passed, the Department of Defense moved over 11,000 jobs in the area to Fort Belvoir, and FCPS got federal grant funds to build an elementary school on the military base, “alleviating the immediate capacity need” for the Route 1 school, Derenak Kaufax told the school board.
FCPS administrators wrote a report last spring recommending the site be used for a standalone pre-kindergarten center, and Superintendent Michelle Reid brought the proposal to the school board on Sept. 12.
While Fairfax County has seen a general dip in child care options during the pandemic, the need for more early childhood education capacity, particularly in the Richmond Highway corridor, was “significant” even before Covid, Mount Vernon District School Board Representative Karen Corbett-Sanders said. Read More
The Fairfax County School Board amended its new capital projects plan last week to prioritize finding solutions to overcrowding at McLean’s Kent Gardens Elementary School,
The Fairfax County Public Schools Fiscal Years 2024-2028 Capital Improvements Program (CIP) was approved unanimously last Thursday (Feb. 9) late in a five-and-a-half-hour meeting mostly spent debating new calendars for the next three school years.
“I understand that the CIP is not perfect, but there’s lots of data and information and a spending plan that we need to move forward on to continue our construction and enrollment projection work efficiently,” Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said.
According to the CIP, which outlines the school system’s short-term capacity needs and renovation plans, Kent Gardens is currently at 121% capacity with 1,023 students. The only school with a higher capacity utilization — Wakefield Forest Elementary School — is in the midst of an expansion.
FCPS has made tweaks over the years to reduce the capacity deficit, adding temporary classrooms, rearranging the interior layout to be more efficient, and reducing the ratio of out-of-boundary students allowed in the school’s popular French immersion program from 40% to 25%.
However, staff have “exhausted ways to modify the building” and a more significant programming or boundary change is needed, said Tholen, whose district includes McLean.
The amendment, which she called “long overdue,” designates Kent Gardens as a priority for boundary or capacity adjustments, directing staff to review and identify options. The CIP previously only recommended that the school be monitored.
“I want to thank Principal [Holly] McGuigan and the Kent Garden Elementary School students, parents and community members for speaking to us over the last year on this topic,” Tholen said. “I do agree with them that dealing with the overcrowding should’ve happened long before this and I will not make any excuses for the delay.”
At-large board member Abrar Omeish noted that FCPS paused consideration of boundary adjustments in 2018 so the school board could update its policy, though no changes have been adopted even after a consultant presented a final report on Dec. 14, 2021.
“I’m excited to see when that will be coming forward, but…in the meantime, [at] Kent Gardens, the problem there has only grown, and we haven’t been able to address it, so this is an opportunity to do that,” Omeish said.
FCPS has since resumed evaluating boundary changes, implementing adjustments in the McLean and Justice high school pyramids in 2021 that are now being phased in.
The CIP also lists the Marshall High School pyramid as a priority for a boundary review in anticipation of the planned Dunn Loring Elementary School, though a potential scoping isn’t expected until 2026.
With the prioritization of Kent Gardens approved, FCPS will present an analysis and recommendations to the community sometime this year, Tholen said. The review will take into account public input that has already been shared, including at a community meeting on the capacity challenges in October.
“Community input will be sought on these options before a final decision is made,” Tholen said.
Fairfax County Public Schools is spending what amounts to two full elementary school renovations per year on unexpected increases in construction costs.
Ahead of a school board meeting on the fiscal year 2024-2028 capital improvements program (CIP) tonight (Thursday), one of the major talking points has been the dramatic impact those increases in construction costs have had on the school system’s construction and renovation plans.
At a work session last month, FCPS staff opened up about how badly the construction costs have affected the district’s reserve funding — specifically a “facilities reserve” used to help fund projects.
“At the start of 2022, that balance was $31 million,” interim assistant superintendent Chuck Fanshaw said. “The current reserve balance is at $16 million…There’s an unprecedented amount of escalation [in costs] over the last year that was anticipated by no one.”
Fanshaw said upcoming construction costs are coming in at around 30% over what had been budgeted, totaling around $28 million across four projects. There will be more specific numbers, Fanshaw said, once those projects go to bid in March.
Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch laid out the trouble FCPS is facing with the current construction cost crisis.
“In layman’s terms: we’ve spent half of the reserve and Falls Church High School still needs another $33 million in addition to what it was bonded for, even though we only have $16 million left in the reserve, and to address this, you’re thinking of including something to address this in the next bond,” he said.
Frisch said FCPS has spent more than $50 million in unanticipated construction costs — enough to finance two school renovations.
“Typically an elementary school renovation costs $25 million,” Frisch said. “We’re talking about the ability to renovate two elementary schools that we’ve had in additional costs, not to mention the money from the reserve that was spent.”
Frisch suggested FCPS may want to slow down its construction timeline to see if the construction materials market evens out, citing reports of declining lumber prices as a sign that some relief may be ahead.
“No one wants to slow things down, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by pouring this money out the window instead of waiting, perhaps a year, to see if prices stabilize for construction materials,” Frisch said. “There’s not a lot we can do about prevailing wages, but where we can do something is the cost of materials for construction.” Read More
Fairfax County School Board member Megan McLaughlin will not be running for reelection in the Braddock District, as at-large member Rachna Sizemore Heizer sets her sights on the seat.
On Monday evening (Feb. 6), McLaughlin announced via a newsletter that she will officially “retire from this position” when her third term ends on Dec. 31, 2023.
“I have also been deeply honored by your tremendous support throughout my tenure,” McLaughlin wrote. “However after more than 15 years of service [including three terms as your School Board Member and previously as a community advocate], I believe it is the right time to provide an opportunity for others to carry on this important work.”
She told FFXnow in an email that the decision to retire “was very difficult” since advocating for students’ needs is the “best part” of public service.
“After 12 years, I will have done all that I can to help strengthen FCPS,” she said.
McLaughlin was first elected in 2012 and touts implementing later high school start times, establishing the Office of the Auditor General, and reforming student discipline practices to be less punitive as her biggest accomplishments during her tenure.
In 2020 and 2021, in the midst of Covid, McLaughlin advocated for schools to reopen. She called then-superintendent Scott Brabrand’s reversal of a decision to return to in-person learning a “breach of trust.”
She was only the school board member who was praised by a parent group advocating for an in-person return to schools, while the group tried to recall several other members.
For her remaining time on the board, McLaughlin told FFXnow that she looks forward to assisting Dr. Michelle Reid in her adjustment to being superintendent and adopting Fairfax County Public Schools’ new strategic plan.
“I will continue to champion stronger fiscal oversight of FCPS’ $3.5 Billion budget, and expanding access to Pre-K for our youngest learners,” she said. “And I will do my very best to help strengthen public trust and confidence in FCPS.”
With McLaughlin’s retirement, school board chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer announced this morning that she will run for the open Braddock District seat. She’s currently one of three countywide board members, but wants to represent her home district.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished over the past few years and excited to build on that progress because there is much more to be done,” she wrote in a statement. “Ensuring an inclusive and exceptional strengths-focused education for every child is more important than ever.”
When first elected in 2019, Heizer was the first Asian American woman and first Indian American person ever elected to a countywide position in Fairfax County.
In 2020, she responded to the then-education secretary Betsy DeVoe’s criticism of FCPS by saying she won’t “be bullied into blatantly unsafe plans…If I don’t get re-elected bc of it, I’m good.”
Heizer said she’s “grateful” for McLaughlin’s 12 years on the board and thanked her for her attention to issues like restorative justice and student health as well as “her insistence that we pursue excellence in all we do on behalf of taxpayers and students alike.”
Heizer has been on the board for just over three years and touts her work expanding access to advanced academics, providing raises to teachers and staff, and shifting the school division’s culture to one that respects neurodiversity.
Tamara Derenak Kaufax won’t be seeking reelection to the Fairfax County School Board.
The three-term Franconia District representative and current board vice-chair announced this morning that she won’t be running this year via an emailed newsletter.
“I have never taken lightly my responsibility to you — my constituents, neighbors, and friends — to keep our schools strong so our community remains strong. I will continue to work hard for you throughout this year,” Derenak Kaufax wrote. “As I complete this chapter, I am filled with both humility and pride. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and for this opportunity to serve.”
Her statement didn’t directly address why she made this decision. FFXnow has reached out to Derenak Kaufax but hasn’t heard back, as of publication time.
In the statement, Derenak Kaufax listed a number of accomplishments during her 12-year tenure including implementing later school start times, instituting the school system’s first strategic plan, and establishing an independent Office of the Auditor General.
She’s also been vice-chair now three times and school board chair once, back in 2014.
This announcement now makes it four school board seats that will be open during this election cycle. Last month, Dranesville District school board member Elaine Tholen officially announced she won’t be seeking re-election.
Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield on the school board, also isn’t running because she’s looking to be voted in the Virginia House of Delegates. Neither is Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky, who’s campaigning in the Virginia State Senate’s redrawn 36th District.
Two school board members have said they’ll seek another term. Karl Frisch confirmed earlier this month that he’ll run again to represent the Providence District, and he already has a challenger. Conservative activist Jeff Hoffman has been a vocal critic of the school board, particularly over its policies supporting transgender students.
Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren told FFXnow in December she is running again as well.
The six other school board members have not made an announcement yet if they plan on running in this year’s general election on Nov. 7.
Derenak Kaufax’s full statement is below: Read More
The battle over transgender student rights has taken center stage in the race for the Fairfax County School Board’s Providence District seat.
Consultant and Vienna resident Jeff Hoffmann officially launched a campaign on Tuesday (Jan. 17) to challenge incumbent Karl Frisch, who announced last week that he’ll seek a second term in office this November.
“It really is time for change on the School Board in Fairfax County,” Hoffmann wrote in a statement on his decision to run. “The current incumbency has become too comfortable, and they choose to vote a Party line agenda versus listen to us, the parents and other taxpayers who invest a high percentage in education.”
Founder of the Virginia Parents First Coalition, a political action committee (PAC) that says it backs candidates “who believe in traditionally conservative education principles,” Hoffmann drew the local LGBTQ community’s attention this weekend with a stunt phone call to the Inova Pride Clinic, where he claimed to be the stepfather of a transgender kid.
Started last June to coincide with Pride Month, the clinic is the first health facility in Northern Virginia to provide primary care specifically for LGBTQ individuals. It serves patients 12 and older.
As reported by NBC4, Hoffmann told a receptionist at the Falls Church-based clinic on Saturday (Jan. 14) that he was looking to schedule a nurse visit for his transgender stepdaughter based on advice from Fairfax County Public Schools staff and a teacher.
Asking if the clinic works with FCPS Pride, an advocacy group for LGBTQ employees and families in the school system, he said his kid would be accompanied by a teacher but not her unsupportive biological father, an apparent attempt to see if a student could get medical services without their parent’s knowledge.
Admitting that the kid he described in the call doesn’t exist, Hoffmann says he wanted to raise “awareness” that gender-affirming care is available to local adolescents, who he claimed are being referred to the Pride Clinic by FCPS Pride.
FCPS Pride said in a statement on Saturday that some of its members obtain services from the clinic, but the group has no direct affiliation.
“FCPS Pride does not have a relationship with the Inova Pride Clinic, does not operate in schools, and does not give any medical advice or make medical referrals,” the group’s executive board said.
Though he says this is “not a priority issue in my campaign,” Hoffmann has a history of opposing FCPS’s policy supporting the right of trans and gender-expansive students to be treated in accordance with their gender identity, criticizing it as a distraction from issues like addressing learning loss and other impacts of the pandemic.
Hoffmann’s campaign for school board continues a trend of candidates for local and state offices in Virginia running on anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans platforms, according to FCPS Pride co-president Robert Rigby, Jr. Read More
Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky is running for Virginia’s State Senate in the redrawn 36th District, potentially challenging long-time senator George Barker.
The one-term Sully District representative announced her candidacy earlier today, saying she’s running to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.
We are at a critical turning point as a Commonwealth where the lived experiences of our elected officials matter more than ever. The new 36th district deserves a Senator who has deep roots in the community with a long record of serving its residents and the bold energy it takes to stand up to Governor Youngkin’s extreme policies. As Chair of the School Board, I led the charge when we successfully sued Youngkin to protect our children against anti-science Executive overreach just days after he was sworn into office. I am focused on the future prosperity of the 36th district and its residents. It is critical that we protect abortion access, high quality public education, expanded voting rights, champion climate change solutions, and stand up for our progressive values. I look forward to talking with my neighbors in the weeks and months ahead as I seek to represent them in Richmond.
Pekarsky was first elected to the school board in 2019, defeating the Republican incumbent Tom Wilson. She served as the school board chair last year and is a former public school teacher.
She also runs a local air charter company based in Manassas with her husband. She is also a first-generation immigrant, according to a press release.
The announcement notes that during her time on the school board, Pekarsky prioritized “closing opportunity gaps, increasing teacher and staff pay, improving title IX training for students, and requiring research-based literacy instruction.”
Last month, Pekarsky told FFXnow that she would make a decision in January regarding whether she will run for reelection to the school board.
This announcement now takes her out of the running for the Sully District seat, which will be on the Nov. 7 ballot with the school board’s 11 other seats. No candidates have come forward for the position yet.
However, with Pekarsky seeking the Democratic nomination for state senate in the 36th District, that could put her up against a long-time incumbent in the primary.
Now in his fourth term, George Barker has represented the 39th Senate District since being first elected in 2007.
With redistricting, though, only about 6% of his former constituents are in the newly redrawn 36th District, where Barker resides and would potentially run for re-election. The district covers Chantilly, Clifton, Fair Oaks and Centreville right up to the Prince William County line.
Most of Barker’s former constituents are scattered across several other districts, including the 33rd District, the 34th District, the 35th District, and the 29th District, which is now mainly centered in Prince William County.
FFXnow has reached out to Barker about his intentions for the 2023 election several times but has yet to hear back as of publication, making Pekarsky the only confirmed candidate at the moment.
Photo via StellaPekarsky.com
Karl Frisch will run for a second term representing the Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board.
Frisch announced today that his qualifying paperwork has been approved, and he will seek an endorsement from the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which can endorse candidates but not officially campaign them in the nonpartisan school board races.
Areas in the Providence District include Tysons, Dunn Loring, Idylwood, Merrifield, Mantua, and Oakton, along with parts of Fairfax, Falls Church, and Vienna.
A formal campaign launch will come later this year, ahead of the Nov. 7 general election.
“I am seeking reelection to help protect public education and local control,” Frisch said. “I will never stop fighting to give every student safe and inclusive public schools with exceptional educators and equitable access to the rigorous academics and other opportunities they need to be successful after graduation.”
When first elected in 2019, a year that ushered in a historically diverse, all-Democratic board, Frisch became the first openly gay person to ever serve on the county’s school board. He is the only out gay man currently on any school board in Virginia, according to his press release.
While the school board has often been occupied with responding to the pandemic over the past couple of years, Frisch’s work so far has included the Mosaic Elementary School naming, planning for a future Dunn Loring Elementary School, and a rerouting of school buses away from Blake Lane after two Oakton High School students were killed in June.
Last fall, he sought to join the General Assembly as the new 35th District delegate, but the Democratic nomination went to nonprofit leader Holly Seibold, who was elected to fill the vacated seat yesterday.
In his announcement, Frisch says he decided to seek reelection in response to state actions that would “compromise curriculum quality and jeopardize student safety.”
Fairfax County Public Schools has clashed on occasion with state leaders, most recently over a delay in merit award notifications. The school board sued Gov. Glenn Youngkin over his elimination of universal masking, and the governor has sided with opponents of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s admissions process.
Last year, Frisch criticized the widely protested draft state policies that would prevent schools from supporting transgender students as “putting the lives of young Virginians in jeopardy to score political points.”
Education is expected to be a key focus of this year’s General Assembly session, which convened today. Filed bills include a prohibition on students from joining athletic teams based on their gender identity, the creation of a statewide policy on library materials, and a voucher program that allow public funds to be used for private schools and services.
“This is a pivotal election year for Fairfax County,” Frisch said. “Will we abandon our world-class public schools in favor of risky Richmond political experiments, or will we continue our critical work to address every student by name and by need?”
All 12 school board seats will be up for election this November.
Frisch joins Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren as the only incumbents so far to confirm they will seek another term. Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen said she won’t seek reelection, while other members have yet to announce their intentions.
Efforts to alleviate crowding issues at Kent Gardens Elementary School are starting to pick up steam, but Fairfax County Public Schools is still working to identify and pursue specific solutions.
With 1,023 students, the McLean school is at 121% of its building capacity, per a proposed capital improvement program (CIP) for fiscal years 2024-2028. That makes it one of the most crowded schools in FCPS, second only to Wakefield Forest Elementary School and tied with Centreville High School.
Wakefield Forest in Annandale is at 135% capacity, but construction is underway on a renovation, which will reduce its capacity utilization to 80%. Centreville High is in line for an expansion as part of the FCPS renovation queue, which was last updated in 2009.
Kent Gardens, however, has yet to join the queue, despite overcrowding complaints persisting in the McLean High School pyramid for a decade now.
That may change after FCPS staff hosted a community meeting on Oct. 7 to discuss the challenges facing the elementary school and gather feedback on potential solutions.
“The upcoming CIP will highlight Kent Gardens as a priority site for a full scoping of options by staff and community engagement to determine the best way forward,” said Elaine Tholen, who represents McLean as the school board’s Dranesville District member. “Staff is also investigating short term improvements that can be done at the Kent Gardens site as longer term solutions are implemented over the next several years.”
Short-term options could include building maintenance or improvements to the on-site trailers, Tholen told FFXnow. Temporary classrooms were added in the 2019-2020 school year and this current year “to accommodate short-term capacity deficit,” according to the CIP.
In addition to a renovation, long-term solutions could include programming or boundary changes, which would be phased in over multiple years, Tholen said.
The school board approved a boundary adjustment in 2021 that shifted some McLean High students to Langley High School, though Kent Gardens wasn’t affected.
According to FCPS, the capacity issues stem from a combination of population growth in McLean — which could continue if development progresses as the county hopes — and high demand for its programs.
“The capacity challenges at Kent Gardens ES are complex as the school not only serves a growing community within its boundaries, but also incorporates students outside the boundary for the popular French Immersion program,” an FCPS spokesperson said by email. Read More
More than a year after Fairfax County government workers got collective bargaining rights, a proposal could extend the option to their public school counterparts.
After months of work, Fairfax County Public School administrators presented a draft resolution to the school board last week that would let employees organize and elect a union to negotiate labor contracts, setting terms for pay, benefits and work conditions.
The 22-page document was developed by a workgroup of FCPS leaders and 17 different school employee associations.
“Over the course of a full year of meetings, totaling over 60 hours together and untold number of hours of prepwork by workgroup members, we reached consensus on the framework for a resolution,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) President David Walrod said at the public hearing on Dec. 15 public hearing.
The proposed resolution guarantees workers the right to discuss workplace issues and engage in collective bargaining activities without facing coercion or intimidation. It also asserts that the school board has the authority to determine budgets and funding and can “take whatever actions may be necessary to carry out its mission during emergencies.”
If approved, FCPS would recognize separate bargaining units for:
- Licensed instructional staff, including full and part-time teachers, librarians and counselors
- Operational support employees, such as assistants, custodians, food service workers and bus drivers
- Administrators and supervisors, including principals and program administrators
Substitute and temporary employees are currently excluded from collective bargaining, but after July 1, 2023, they could seek inclusion in one of the existing units or file a request to be recognized as their own unit.
Walrod and other employee group representatives urged the school board to adopt the draft resolution.
“FEA agrees with the strong resolution presented to the FCPS School Board and the community,” Fairfax Education Association President Leslie Houston said. “Our number one priority was to ensure all FCPS employees were represented at the bargaining table. This resolution must be passed swiftly and intact.”
With the narrow adoption of House Bill 582 in 2020, Virginia opened the door for public workers to collectively bargain for the first time in 44 years.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution for county employees on Oct. 19, 2021, and last month, fire department workers became the first group to elect a union representative for negotiations.
Leaders of SEIU Virginia 512, a union representing general county employees, said they support FCPS workers also getting the right to unionize and negotiate their work contracts.
“The Fairfax County employees of SEIU believe that every working person deserves the right to join a union with their co-workers and bargain for a better future for all families,” SEIU Virginia 512 Fairfax County President Tammie Wondong said. “When FCPS educators and support staff have a seat at the table, kids and families throughout our community will succeed. That’s why we fight for Unions for All.”
The school board hasn’t set a timeline to vote on the resolution, but any contract talks won’t apply for the fiscal year 2024 budget, which will be proposed on Jan. 12. According to the draft resolution, any negotiations with financial implications need to start by Sept. 1 and be agreed to by Nov. 1 to be included in the next budget.
School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, an at-large member, said by email that the board will continue working on the collective bargaining resolution after FCPS finishes its winter break on Jan. 3:
I appreciate the efforts of the working group consisting of many stakeholders that worked hard to come to consensus on the draft collective bargaining resolution. I also appreciate the time and perspectives of those who came out to speak to the school board at the collective bargaining public hearing. It is vital to hear from our community on this important topic. I will take the comments under advisement as the school board continues to work on collective bargaining after the winter break.
Photo courtesy David Broder/Twitter