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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

School board, county exploring options for using Willston site for a school



Panelists at the forum on schools included (from the left): School board chair Tamara Denerak Kaufax, Regional Assistant Superintendent Fabio Zuluaga, Assistant Superintendent Jeffrey Platenberg, school board member Sandy Evans, and Superintendent Karen Garza.
Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Garza told local residents at a State of Our Schools Forum Feb. 10 she is optimistic that the school board and Board of Supervisors will be able to work together on using the Willston Center site in Seven Corners to address school capacity issues in the Mason District.

The forum, organized by the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC), drew a large of  150 parents and residents to Glasgow Middle School to discuss a wide range of school issues with elected leaders and FCPS officials.

The majority of schools in Mason are either over capacity now or are projected to be in five years, said MDC President Mollie Loeffler. More than 500 people had signed a petition spearheaded by MDC urging the county, which owns the Willston property, to turn it over to the Fairfax County School Board.

Meanwhile, Loeffler expressed concerns that redevelopment proposals in the works call for the construction of thousands of apartments and townhouses in Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads – further straining school capacity.

Evans noted that FCPS formally requested the Willston Center from the Board of Supervisors in December. Since then the two sides have been having conversations about using the property for a new school or creating a “community school,” which would also include health and other services for families, she said.

The building, which had been an FCPS elementary school decades ago, is now owned by the county, so “the county would have to make that decision,” Evans said. The school board has to persuade the county to give or sell it to FCPS or come up with some kind of partnership allowing it to be used for a school. “It’s in the hands of the Board of Supervisors,” she said. “I think we’re making progress.”

“I believe there is still an opportunity” for FCPS to gain control of the Willston Center, Garza said, as the  BoS is becoming more receptive to the idea. “There is reason for optimism.”

“You are making a difference,” she told the audience, in reference to the community’s advocacy for the Willston Center.

There have been “lots of conversations about how the Willston Center can serve the school board and the county,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross. “We are exploring some opportunities.”

However, community-serving organizations have been based at the Willston Center for the past 30 years or so, Gross said, and “maintaining those services is very important.” She said she’s turned down developers in the past who wanted to build on the Willston site because they wouldn’t retain those organizations.

One of those groups is the Vietnamese Resettlement Association, and its executive director, Kim Cook, said at the forum that she would like to stay at the Willston Center. She spoke about how many of the refugees her organization helped has children are now successful professionals who serve the commuity.

The county couldn’t afford to relocate those organizations to the extensive vacant office space available in Mason District, Gross said.

At the same time, the county is proceeding with plans to develop the East County Office Building on the Willston site and a public-private partnership to include apartments and a school on Columbia Pike.

“Land use is hard and often very messy,” Gross said. When she said, “the current comprehensive plan does not allow a school on the Willston site,” several members of the audience chanted, “change it.”

Proffers inadequate

Evans said the school board and county are also having discussions about raising the proffer amount paid by developers to help offset the cost of education of new residents. It’s currently $11,000, and Evans said it needs to be much higher to reflect the true cost. She supports the idea of imposing “bonus proffers” on new development in areas with overcrowded schools.

A county/school board joint infrastructure committee is looking at the need to increase proffers, Evans said, as well as update the student yield ratio, which is used to project the number of school-age children expected to live in different types of housing.

Jeffrey Platenberg, assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services, said the student yield formula is mostly accurate for some types of housing, but less so for aging multifamily housing that attracts more young families.

“There’s a disconnect between the student yield ratio and what we’re seeing in Willston,” Evans said. In those apartments, the number of school-age children is more than double what’s been projected. The formula “needs to reflect reality,” she said; it doesn’t account for aging housing stock nor families doubling or tripling up in one apartment when the economy tanks.

When asked if FCPS can stop development in areas with overcrowded schools, Garza said the school system does not have that authority, but “we hope we can have some influence.” She urged members of the community to be “front and center when those decisions are made.”

In response to complaints that neighborhood residents were neglected when the school board acquired an office building on Leesburg Pike and transformed it into Bailey’s Upper Elementary School, Evans expressed regret in not doing a better job of reaching out to residents.

This year, she said, the school board started having monthly discussions on facilities and is considering holding regional public meetings on the Capital Improvement Program.

To address overcrowding at JEB Stuart High School, Evans said FCPS is looking at reconfiguring space inside the building or possibly adding a third floor.

Challenges at Stuart

Several parents expressed concerns about the Virginia Education Department giving Stuart an “accredited with warning” status.  

Fabio Zuluaga, assistant superintendent for Region 2, said the school needed to have 85 percent of students graduate on time but only achieved 84 percent. New programs are being put in place to provide extra tutoring after school and on Saturdays for students at-risk of not graduating. “We are determined to achieve the 85 percent benchmark this year,” he said.

Schools that are not fully accredited are subjected to more oversight from the state, but the consequences for those schools are not clearly spelled out, Zuluaga said.  

FCPS is working with the state to give Stuart more flexibility, Garza added, noting that the school faced a unique situation this year because of a significant increase in students with very low English language skills.  

Next fall, a new “school within a school” will be established at Stuart to provide intensive English language instruction to students who don’t speak English, she said.

School board chair Tamara Denerak Kaufax (Lee District) told the audience the school board is seeking additional funding to meet the needs of the growing population of non-English speaking children in the schools. According to Garza, FCPS has seen a 22 percent increase in students at the lowest level of English language skills and is increasing its budget by $4 million next year to meet their needs..    

When asked why FCPS hasn’t approved the Fairfax Leadership Academy, a charter school proposed by Stuart teacher Eric Welch, Garza said, “our ability to be innovative is limited” due to the lack of funds. The school system had to cut $1 billion from its budget and plus nearly 2,000 positions.

What’s needed is high-quality preschool for every child, Garza said. “That’s where the achievement gap starts.” Both Evans and Garza said they were open to the idea of looking at different models of education. Evans called for project-based learning and less of an emphasis on seat time.

52 comments:

  1. Thanks for the write up Ellie. I was not able to make the meeting, so this was very helpful.

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  2. Ellie, I don't know how you do it. You are so fast. Thank you!

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  3. Regarding adding a third floor on one of the schools - I don't think that was for Stuart - I think that was for one of the other schools...

    I also want to point out that Supervisor Gross was over an hour late for the meeting. While I understand that she has various commitments, this was a large meeting of the #1 budget item for the county. It is hard for me to reconcile what would have been made a higher priority, however it seems as though her tardiness is consistent with her record regarding the schools: it is not high enough on her priority list.

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    1. Maybe she was waiting for the streetcar.

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    2. Touche, anon. Touche.

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    3. Gross-ly mis-represented again. Haven't we had our Penny's worth yet?

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    4. It was Stuart that was mentioned with respect to a possible third floor over part (not all) of the current builidng.

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    5. Well, the MDC had to schedule all those officials and the Board has a standing Tuesday meeting - so it wasn't her fault. BUT - I truly enjoyed the fact that someone made a public plea for "someone" to run against her prior to her arrival. LOL - that was priceless.

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  4. Very good summary. Thanks Ellie for being there and for all that you do.

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  5. "School board chair Tamara Denerak Kaufax (Lee District) told the audience the school board is seeking additional funding to meet the needs of the growing population of non-English speaking children in the schools". My question is who is going to pay for this ... the parents of the non-english speaking chilldren?

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    1. There was a decent point raised last night by a couple of folks about the "school within a school" concept (in support of the notion that it should be expanded).

      The schools have a responsibility to teach all of the children enrolled in the school. The argument was that without school within a school (or similar), the teachers have to spend an inordinate amount of time helping the children that are struggling (often language issues). This means that the pace slows for the entire classroom. With school within a school and similar ideas, if you can give those kids that need it more directed help, you can not only be helping them but also be helping the rest of the class as well.

      So, yes english speakers or otherwise better established folks would need to flip more of the bill - as is the case most of the time - but at least in this situation, the payoff is mutually beneficial.

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    2. No, we are.

      The federal government should be picking up the entire education tab of any undocumented "unaccompanied minor" student, though. The chamber of commerce republicans who want cheap labor at all costs, and bleeding heart liberals will not enforce immigration laws, but they should not be left to not bear the consequences.

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    3. The elephant in the room

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    4. "2/11/15, 2:58PM" I agree with you whole heartedly with your reference to "chamber of commerce republicans" but your reference to "bleeding heart liberals" is delusional.

      Democrats support illegal immigration and amnesty solely because it is in their political interest to do so. Democrats know that eventually the illegal immigrants and their children will vote (see Obama's executive amnesty) in favor of Democrats and their policies to expand government entitlement spending and increase taxes on the middle class and increase the debt of future generations.

      Let's not forget, many of the people who give and carry out the orders of the federal government you complain so much about reside right in Mason District. So yes, the people of Mason District should reap what they sow.

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    5. "2/11/15, 3:47 PM" The donkey in the room.

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    6. Anon 2:58 pm here. I'm sorry that you mistook my bleeding heart line as a compliment - it is not. Yes, democrats will tolerate anything as long as it pads their bottom line. I agree. I'd like to be tolerant, but not so tolerant that we just tolerate everything until it does us all in.

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  6. I would hope that site would have a child care center, a pre school, and k thru grade 2 classrooms.

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    1. The Tax Payers should not pay for child care or pre-school. Many middle class parents do not send their kids to school until Kindergarten because it is not in their budget. Why should the tax payers start paying for child care for other kids when they do not pay for it for their own child?

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  7. We can help the schools out by slowing the rush to add more residential development in Mason District and Seven Corners.

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    1. "2/11/15 4:36 PM" I don't agree.

      As this article reports, most of the crowding of the schools is coming from "aging housing stock" not new housing.

      Blocking new residential developments in Mason Dostrict, will only lead to increasingly aged housing stock, declining property values, the flight of the upper and middle classes, and increasingly overcrowded and inadequately funded public schools.

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    2. That's doing a bit of cherry-picking of what was said last night. Yes, there is a lot of CURRENT crowding coming from aging housing stock, but Mrs. Evans and Dr. Garza have also voiced deep concern about how the high density residential plans being constructed for 7 corners are being done without adequate consideration of the impact to the already overcrowded schools. This additional development will lead to FUTURE crowding at a time that the school system is attempting to catch up with the current demand.

      Both of them made a call to action last night saying it was necessary that the public to continue putting pressure on the county to keep the school crowding in the spotlight when determining additional residential capacity.

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    3. The crowding is coming from multiple families stuffing themselves into one bedroom apartments having multiple kids when they can ill afford one thus straining budgets, deteriorating education, and placing a hefty burden on the the taxpayer. Ordinance laws need to be enforced. The idea that everything is free needs to go. The Mason District can no longer be the dumping ground. The Culmore model is extinct and needs to be changed. You want to know why schools are over capacity look no further than the birthrate among the Hispanic community which is reportedly 3-4 times higher than non-Hispanics. Look at that on a grand scale and things become clear... And with many "allegedly" living at or below the poverty line who ultimately pays for this? At this rate folks shouldn't concern themselves with the Willston site but should be wondering where can 5 more schools be built... cause any new school built now will be filled in short order. County officials along with School officials need to address issues causing the problem instead of putting band-aids on them. Unless that happens you are simply pissing in the wind. Development is desperately needed in this area along with a change in philosophy in the Mason District. My fear is that and new development will be stuffed with multi-families cramming into one bedroom apartments like we have already. As anon 6:03 noted declining property values along with the flight of the upper and middle classes is something to keep an eye on. Knowing what I know now, I certainly would not move in this area.

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    4. Will these new apartments do credit checks?

      The lack of barriers to ANYTHING is just so befuddling. I know you have to show proof of residency when you enroll in FCPS - how can multiple families show that they live in a residence? I guess lease agreements are easy to print up online, and easy to fake.

      It does not matter who is doing the overcrowding; it just needs to stop.

      And I don't see how having a bunch of new rental apartments in the district will help my property values. They will not be used as comps for any real estate. We need more new owner-occupied housing, and other new development.

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    5. Do any of you guys ranting about declining home values, flight of the middle class, and a rising amount of apartments crammed full of non-English speaking illegals actually bother to do any research? Or do you just sit on your front porch yelling at your Latino neighbors all day while clutching a copy of Fountainhead? Median market value for home prices in Mason and Fairfax as a whole have steadily risen since recovering from the housing collapse, Baileys has been among the biggest grower last year alone. That aside, since Northern VA is one of the most insulated regions from job market fluctuations, population growth is almost a certainty. Where do you think these people are going to go? And it's not all them "damn illegals" either. Again, if you actually read the demographic reports you'd see the population growth in the under 5, 5 to 9, and 10 to 14 age ranges have remained relatively stagnant, if not declined over the past 40 years, and projections show continued stagnancy. In fact, most of the growth can be attributed to...old cranky people like yourself. The median age of residents has risen over 12 YEARS, from 25 to 37 since 1970. Also, while Hispanics do in fact have larger average household sizes, this 3-4 times the birthrate made-up fact is complete nonsense, otherwise the average Hispanic household would have 15 people in it...instead of around 3.8...which is the actual number, which has also remained relatively stagnant over the past 8 years. Should we also talk about median household income? Risen. Income distribution? Those earning under 25k a year has remained stagnant. I figured all this out in maybe 30 minutes of beating the crap out of google. It's not that hard.

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    6. Adam Goldberg, I assume that you don't have any neighbors that break and laws or county codes flagrantly. Please report back when you do.

      Please balance the stats and figures, and people's experiences, and anecdotes. They do matter.

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    7. Adam - Excerpt from Washington Post article 9/4/2012. “More than half of Bailey’s students are Hispanic, one of the county’s fastest-growing groups. Larry Bizette, a school system demographer, said enrollment has been fed in part by high birthrates among minority county residents and a downturn in the housing market. Bizette said that the Hispanic birthrate is almost triple that of white non-Hispanics” Perhaps you can argue the made up fact with the school system demographer or spend 31 minutes beating the crap out of google. Do you honestly believe that number has decreased?

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    8. @ 1:12; Bizette never cites a source...so who cares? Mine is the annual reports generated by the FFX county Department of Systems Management for Human Services. There out there on Fairfax's website for all to peruse. I am open to debate, but this is a pretty fact based argument so without some reliable data, it's hard to prove a point.
      @ 12:29; so unless my neighbors are criminals my argument doesn't hold water? Balance stats and figures with anecdotes and experiences? Ok, every time I drive on the beltway I miraculously never hit traffic! Therefore there's no traffic on the beltway and everyone else is crazy. But it's my experience and anecdote! Your stats and figures saying that DC traffic is in the top 5 worst in the country need to be balanced with my obviously completely nonsensical observation!

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    9. Adam to quote you above "Again, if you actually read the demographic reports you'd see the population growth in the under 5, 5 to 9, and 10 to 14 age ranges have remained relatively stagnant, if not declined over the past 40 years, and projections show continued stagnancy." If everything is stagnant and projections are for them to remain stagnant possibly decrease then where are all these kids coming from filling the schools to over capacity. I guess capacity numbers are being made up at all these meetings, who knew. I guess the the school demographer is making things up too - might as well cut him loose. I suppose there is no need for any additional schools to be built then unless the folks in Lake Barcroft, Ravenwood, Sleepy Hollow, etc.. start cranking kids out in record pace. Heck bring Bailey's back to one school then. I am scratching my head as to why the need for all these meetings when all we really just needed was Adam and his 30 minute google search. Who Knew!

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    10. Do you guys want me to run for Penny's spot? I hear she's a real favorite around here.

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  8. I'll be looking forward to seeing how the debate about development in Mason is affected by the next round of property tax bills. Most of the homeowners in my little subdivision received tax increase averaging 15%. Another year like that is bound to change the attitudes of many of the free spenders who haven't previously paid much attention to what's going on. Fortunately, the street car boondoggle is dead. However, unless there's a sudden influx of state ad federal money into the district, I don't foresee much additional spending going on. So, it's likely that the ECOB is dead and that any future school construction will have to be closely tied to development.

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  9. Keep an eye on Penny. She has a way of deciding the issue (what she wants) before others are permitted entry to the party, then when "others" have been tolerated cut them off by closing the party.

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    1. which is precisely why she needs to relieved of her duties this coming november. as I noted last night... the filing deadline is in June. I very much hope to see some qualified cantidates run.

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    2. That pretty much sums up Penny, but her lack of access has never affected her success. She's a loyal Bulova foot soldier and her electability is closely tied to the latter's popularity. So longer as voters continue to overwhelmingly support Sharon Bulova, there's little likelihood that Penny won't win reelection. Moreover, although she may not be returning your phone calls, there are plenty of "community leaders" who have access to her and for whom she's done favors. Those include the numerous Gross supporters who want to use Willston as a site for housing social service agencies. So, I wouldn't expect someone to step up and knock Penny off her throne.

      One more thing: The thing to avoid is backing a primary challenger whose general outlook doesn't significantly differ from Gross' except on a few issues such as Willston. That's exactly what happened when Kaye Kory defeated Bob Hull. However, instead of getting better representation, , Mason ended up being represented by Bob Hull in a skirt. Kaye Kory isn't anymore responsive than Penny Gross, so it would be wise not to repeat the same scenario during the next election for supervisor.

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  10. Do not forget to sign the petition and help keep the pressure on Penny Gross and the BOS.
    https://www.change.org/p/pat-herrity-put-the-children-first-return-the-former-willston-school-site-to-the-fairfax-county-school-board

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  11. My vote is to slap a child tax on these idiots that can't control their sexual urges and cannot afford these kids. Even the Pope agrees that some form of birth control is appropriate. If they had to pay a tax on more than two children you would see them smarten up. But first they have to pay taxes. Money talks, fine them for additional kids and use those funds to build schools, it is really that simple.

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    1. This is a great idea! Also, maybe we can make it so the tax is higher if they're non-white...or better yet, just no more than one kid UNLESS you're white. I hear this guy had a lot of good ideas too...
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mein_Kampf

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    2. Adam, comparing commenters to Hitler demonstrates you have gone off the deep end.

      Just because a commenter is ranting and proposing offensive (to many) ideas to financially punish people who in the commenter's view have too many children does not make them a racist not does it make them comparable to Hitler.

      Get off your high chair Adam and learn some self-control.

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    3. "2/12/15, 10:13 AM" What if the people with more than two children do not want them educated in Fairfax's Public School, but instead want to home school them or pay to have their children educated in a private or parochial school?

      Your proposal to financially punish the relatively few taxpaying American citizens who raise more than two children who will hopefully grow up to pay the massive federal debt this generation of Americans is compiling is, to put it politely, a very very bad idea.

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    4. /s? I guess that wasn't obvious to you.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law

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    5. Hey Adam and if its a drag queen baby, the tax would even be higher to support the fashion, makeup and nail polish!

      Really, having a tax or some penalty on folks who don't pay taxes and keep adding to school population and the burden of social services and our tax dollars and the sacrifice is not unreasonable. All they need to do is zip up or pay up. Why do the rest of us have to suffer because they can't control their hormones and use procreation as an excuse. They did this in China, and we wonder now why we are a second rate economic power.

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    6. Only if you know absolutely nothing about the facts of China's one-child policy would you suggest with any seriousness that we look to it as a model. Please tell me I'm missing your sarcasm, 5:05.

      I'm not Adam, but he's making more sense than you are.

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    7. Also, since when did the US become a second rate economic power? You do know what GDP is right?

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    8. Last May, it was announced that China has become the number one economic power. Their GDP has been double and triple the US for years. As for China's one child policy, it was a disaster and they have reversed that because of the way there were treating females and workforce shortages. However, if they had a bunch of people crossing their border unannounced, I bet they would have some policy that would prevent a vacuum of resources being sucked out of their economy. Fairfax has become freebie town. I am all for population growth, but I'm not for a county bankrupting it services and degrading its education system because these men can keep it in their pants or use contraception.

      BTW, China owns 30% of US bonds. And whether you like it or not, if we don't change, they may be calling the shots in the future.

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    9. Lol no. China's GDP is only greater than the US if you take into effect purchase parity, and that is because they manipulate their currency to be worth far less than the dollar. Furthermore, in only that single key measure, China overtook the US last year. Where you are getting this “2-3X for years” factoid is beyond me. If you use nominal GDP, China has never eclipsed the US by any stretch.

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    10. As usual u r wrong check ur facts

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  12. > If they had to pay a tax on more than two children

    ... then I'm not sure what would be left of our country after all.

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    1. About 91% of the population, according to the census.

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  13. The expectation that only singles and young couples live in condos and apartments needs to go. This is an archaic notion; they need to be able to assume that every single unit in a building might house a family.

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  14. Ellie - I was at most of this meeting and you have provided such a great summary. Thank you. I was very impressed by Sandy Evans, Karen Garza and Jeff Platenburg at the meeting. Each came across as very knowledgeable and committed. I was less impressed by the regional superintendent, Fabio Z, who seemed to be going out of his way to minimize the significance to students and residents if Stuart is eventually denied accreditation - and tied it all to a 1% shortfall in Stuart's graduation rate without acknowledging some of the other problems with Stuart's SOL scores recently (i.e., Math). And Penny Gross was just a disaster - waltzed in late and then proceeding to tell people in a condescending manner that real estate issues such as the future use of the Williston site are "always messy," the implication being that we have to leave it up to the experts such as herself and her cronies to sort out. No thanks - that's how we ended up in the current predicament.

    But, overal, impressed with the civility with which Mason District residents discussed these issues at a public forum, despite having a BOS representative who treats us like serfs.

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  15. I am tired of a Supervisor who does not care about the children on this District. Penny has no plans on handing over the Willston Site. I also do not like the idea of FCPS sharing the building the Government services. As a mom I would not want random adults who are not parents walking around the same building as my kids. The shared space concept is just riduculous.

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    1. Tell the County to mover he social services building to El Salvador, where it belongs.

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