By Sam Adamo
Director of Planning & Legislative Services Loudoun County
At some point in their history, school districts large and small have faced the issue of school closings. After WWII — spurred by the post-war baby boom — “The Greatest Generation” built schools at warp speed. But as the baby boom gave way to the baby bust, school districts originally designed to accommodate hundreds of students were only housing 10 to 20% of their capacity. Because the economic base of many communities changed with the times, today school districts are struggling to meet increasing expenses with significantly less revenue.
Still, the very mention of closing a school near and dear to a neighborhood initiates a lively discussion that can frequently turn negative — debilitating all those involved. But there are ways to alleviate this negativity.
Scheduling meetings (yes, as in more than one) to outline the facts is one of the first — and most important — steps you can take. And while you’re addressing the facts, community members must be questioned as well. Specifically, do they have any ideas that would keep the school open given bleak enrollment prospects and a tough fiscal environment? If so, what are those alternatives, and how can the district best implement them?
You’ll find this process is designed to help you reach a decision. While it may take longer to answer a high volume of questions and explore different possibilities — and while it’s doubtful everyone will support your choice — at least your stakeholders will know you heard their voices during the decision-making process.
Ultimately, the opportunity to provide feedback is very important to community members, thereby making the way forward that much more palpable.