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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Q and A: New housing projects and the impact on school overcrowding

Construction has started on a multifamily housing complex in Seven Corners.

With lots of new development under way or planned in the Annandale/Mason area, lots of people are wondering how that will affect the already overcrowded public schools. We asked Fairfax County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Jeffrey Platenberg, who’s in charge of the Department of Facilities and Transportation, to explain how FCPS determines how many new students are likely to live in a new housing development and how that fits in with its enrollment projections. His responses are reported below in a question-and-answer format.

Among the projects under way are a 188-unit apartment complex in Seven Corners between Route 50 and South Street and the addition of 100 units at the Monticello apartments in Falls Church.

Future developments under discussion include a 400-unit apartment complex on Columbia Pike and Carlin Springs Road in Bailey’s Crossroads, 310 units on Markham Street in Annandale, and a mixed-use apartment complex in Bailey’s Crossroads in connection with the proposed East County Government Center. There are also several infill single-family or townhouse developments throughout the area, including Little River Turnpike and Hummer Road.

Platenberg said one of the challenges facing FCPS is that the facility planning department calculates future enrollment both as part of its own enrollment projection processes and also during the review of proposed housing developments. His answers to the following questions consider both scenarios.  

Annandale Blog: What formula does FCPS use when calculating how many students will live in a new apartment building with a mix of one, two, and three-bedroom units?

Jeffrey Platenberg: We do not project or estimate the potential numbers of students based on the expected or approved number of bedrooms to be built for any type of housing (single family detached, townhomes, or multifamily).

The calculation of students from a development occurs in two different processes. For the purposes of development review (during a rezoning or planning study), a county-wide average ratio is used to estimate the average number of students a housing unit type will generate.

The ratio used is created by looking at recent students whose addresses are matched to recent existing housing by housing categories. This ratio is multiplied by the proposed number of units to generate an estimated student yield. The estimated student yield is used in the calculation of a recommended school proffer contribution and initial school facility planning; it is not used for official enrollment projections.

We calculate ratios for 24 areas (one per high school attendance area) of the County/City of Fairfax recent students whose addresses are matched to recent existing housing by housing categories. We project by applying the appropriate ratios to forecast housing (Fairfax County government) for each attendance area. These calculations are used for the official school enrollment projection.

AB: Does the formula look at other factors, such as the expected monthly rent and demographics of residents?

JP: Since we project for a horizon of six future school years, we cannot know the composition of families or individuals who may move into forecasted housing nor the likely rent they will pay. The calculation is based purely on a matching of students to housing.

AB: Does the formula take into account projected numbers of preschool-age children?

JP: We do not project for the population at large, only potential FCPS students by level. Some of our students used in the calculation of the ratios may be preschool aged, however, but that smaller student group may not reflect the number of preschool aged population at large in the preschool age range.

AB: How accurate is the formula compared to actual numbers of children in apartments?

JP: We have only broadly looked at histories of students by housing types. The accuracy of the estimated student yield using the county-wide average has not been analyzed in detail comprehensively.

Since it is an average, there will be projects that will generate more students and likewise projects that will generate fewer students. A trend that has been observed by FCPS is in older multifamily housing, student counts tend to exceed the county-wide average, while newer multifamily housing tends to see fewer students in the initial years.

So through the life-cycle of an apartment project, it may initially fall below the average, but as it ages it may approach the average and even exceed it. Because the actual number of children in a development would change from year to year, so too would any accuracy measurement.

AB: Is it correct that developers are expected to pay FCPS $10,000 per projected school-age child?

JP: Because proffers are designed to mitigate the impacts of development, the proffer contribution is based on the net increase in students. The current recommended proffer contribution per student is $10,825. This amount is reviewed on a regular basis as school capacities and construction costs change. This is to ensure the recommend proffer most accurately reflects the current cost per student.

AB: Does that money go directly to the school in the attendance area served by that apartment complex—for extra trailers, for example—or does it go to FCPS as a whole?

JP: The proffer language typically designates those funds to the schools serving/impacted by the development. Proffer funds are used toward projects which enhance the capacity of the impacted schools.

AB: Does FCPS consider overcrowded single-family houses—we have many with three and four families crammed in a three-bedroom house—when calculating enrollment projections?

JP: Because we use actual student counts, FCPS students in housing of all types will be included in the ratio calculations as part of the set of ratios calculated for each of the 24 high school attendance areas and the county-wide average.


  1. Annandale Blog, You did a fantastic job of interviewing the Facilities person. You asked all the important questions. Obviously the County has done a terrible job of estimating the number of students that will be crowding into schools. They need to review their calculations because it's not working. Our schools are terribly overcrowded. Because our Board of Supervisors loves development, they lowball the number of students expected so that developers only have to pay a one time fee of$10,800. Then developers wash their hands of all the repercussions that unmanaged growth causes in infrastructure, traffic, and schools. Citizens need to demand to have the studies done that the facilities person admits has not not been done.

    Facilities said: "We have only broadly looked at histories of students by housing types. The accuracy of the estimated student yield using the county-wide average has not been analyzed in detail comprehensively."

    We need smart growth not dumb growth.

  2. It's unfortunate that FCPS will not use a more sophisticated approach than a county-wide average for estimating the number of students. If you correlated the number of students to school test scores I'm sure you would find a higher number of students coming from apartments in school districts with the highest test scores.

  3. Are our schools overcrowded because of modern day misestimation, or because in the 1960s and1970s when almost no one with kids in Fairfax county lived in an apartment, it was assumed all those brand new garden apartments (they were new back then) would always be inhabited by singles, and now they are inhabited by multiple families - as immigrants no longer go to the central cities but come straight to the suburbs, and there is no where else for them to go?

  4. We need to either curb development or enforce ordinances against overcrowding.Schools aren't the only systems affected by ill-considered building and near tenement-like overcrowding. Road systems are hammered with more traffic. The environment loses trees and gains more polluted runoff into the Bay. Neighborhoods are upended and noise pollution increases. $10,000+ a unit hardly compensates for these impacts. And what has all our development gotten us -- possible property tax increases on top of increases in assessments.

  5. New development is the only way to get the tax revenues to pay for services. Not allowing new developoment inside the beltway, especially in places with good transit (like Falls Church) or to get good transit (like Baileys) means those people will move further out instead, which will mean more impact on the environment. But we do need to give these new folks alternatives to the auto - more transit, more bike lanes - heck, lets start by getting sidewalks on all our main arterials.

    As for the tenement like overcrowding - thats not good for the FFX county budget, true, but its a rebalancing - FFX county was built to have few or no poor people - they were all to live in DC or Alexandria - now we are a more complete community, with more jobs and retail, but also more poor people too. The real answer is to end poverty with education and other programs, but as long as poverty exists, I think counties like FFX have to man up and accept our share of it.

  6. I don't see why we need this

  7. We have already accepted our share and the share of the rest of the Districts. Our schools are way over capacity our children are learning in crowded environment with kids who do not listen and whose parents do not care. Worrying more about the environment and not our children is unacceptable. New development is just inviting more boarding house issues and has not curbed the problem but has encouraged more of it. We need to enforce our housing laws in this County. This District is way beyond what we can handle with schools and infrastructure.

  8. I am speechless. Apartment complexes expanding, condos replacing bowling alleys... Any wonder why the inside the beltway schools are overcapacity? Any wonder why certain neighborhoods -- mine for instance -- are now in their third high school district in five years? Sheesh...

  9. Why is this not part of Mr. Platenburg's conversations with the Seven Corners Task Force? See below:

    " The approximately 6,000 new residential units proposed are part of the Seven Corners Planning Study currently underway by Fairfax County and the Seven Corners Task Force. The Sears property is one development located in the larger Seven Corners Planning Area. Sleepy Hollow Elementary, Glasgow Middle and Stuart High schools would be the primary schools serving the new development. Some of the new development would also be served by Beech Tree Elementary School.
    FCPS is currently working with the County to evaluate the impact of the planned residential development on the school system and provide recommendations regarding school facilities. Preliminarily, FCPS anticipates the need for a new elementary school, additions to existing schools, and possible programming changes to accommodate the anticipated growth. While the most recent analysis provided by FCPS to Fairfax County was in April, 2014 (attached), review is still ongoing. FCPS is currently in the process of reviewing the draft plan text dated June 10, 2014.
    At the time a particular residential development proposal is initiated for rezoning, FCPS would again provide analysis on the impact to the school system and recommendations regarding school facilities. FCPS, with the support of the County, will look to developers for contributions to mitigate the impacts of their development. Such contributions may include land dedication for future school facilities and/or proffer fund contributions to be used in the construction/capacity enhancements of school facilities.


    Jeffrey K. Platenberg
    Assistant Superintendent
    Department of Facilities and Transportation Services
    8115 Gatehouse Road, Suite 3300
    Falls Church, Virginia 22042"