Those of you following the Annandale Regional Planning Study and appreciate the opportunity for community engagement might want to look at the political machinations involving the school board’s decision to close Clifton Elementary School.
The future of Clifton Elementary was part of the Southwestern Regional Planning Study, a process similar to the one going on now to explore options for addressing overcrowding at Annandale High School and other nearby schools and determine the boundary for the new school to be constructed on the site of the Lacy Center.
FCPS e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by concerned parents show that Springfield School Board member Elizebeth Bradsher and her allies pushed for the closure of Clifton in return for moving up the renovation of West Springfield High School from a 2007-19 to 2011 bond referendum. The e-mails encourage members of SOAR (Spartans Organized for Action on Renovation) to bombard other school board members to urge them to approve the Springfield renovation and coach them to cite fiscal responsibility and not mention Clifton. The school board voted July 8 to close Clifton Elementary.
In one e-mail, a SOAR member talks about the “game behind the game” involving Bradsher's meetings with FCPS officials to push for West Springfield to be on the 2011 bond. In another e-mail about last month’s PTSO meeting at Woodson High School, Assistant Superintendent Dean Tistadt tells Bradsher, “we will have them eating out of our hands just like we did at Clifton.” In other messages, FCPS staff and Bradsher identify Woodson/Frost/Oak View parents as possible “hijackers” of the Annandale Regional Planning Study
According to Elizabeth Schultz of Friends of Community Schools, “conflicts of interest are rampant, ethics are completely absent, the Open Meeting Act appears to be ignored. In all, there is absolutely nothing transparent about this process and the lack of transparency is about to be exponentially compounded by the pending boundary study.”
Friends of Community Schools is having a public meeting tomorrow evening at the Clifton Elementary School cafeteria, 7 p.m., on efforts to save the school before FCPS community engagement meetings on the Southwestern Boundary Study Oct. 25 and 26.
A group of parents has filed suit against the school board, charging that the decision to close Clifton Elementary School violates state law. A letter to the editor by Janet Otersen, published in the Fairfax Times, notes that closing Clifton was supposed to save $11 million, but FCPS must now spend $15 million to renovate surrounding schools to accommodate the 400 Clifton students.