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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

School overcrowding not a problem any more? Enrollment growth slows

Modular units, like these classrooms at Glen Forest Elementary School, don't count when determining whether a school is overcrowded.
For the last couple of years, there were lots of complaints about how nearly all the schools in the Annandale/Mason District area were overcrowded and getting worse. 

Now, it doesn’t seem to be such a problem – at least according to the Fairfax County Public Schools’ 2017-21 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), approved by the school board Jan. 21 – mainly because enrollment growth is slowing.

The most recent CIP notes that several elementary schools that had been listed as needing capacity enhancements in the past are now projected to be under capacity in five years. They include: Annandale Terrace, Braddock, Bren Mar Park, Columbia, Glen Forest, Sleepy Hollow, Weyanoke, and Woodburn.

Last year’s CIP for example projected Woodburn to be 130 percent of capacity in 2019-20, while the most recent CIP puts the school at just 90 percent for 2020-21. In other downward adjustments over the same period, Columbia is reduced from 114 to 90 percent, Weyanoke from 115 to 76 percent, and Glen Forest  from 132 percent to 92 percent of capacity.

“That’s a dramatic shift,” says Mason school board member Sandy Evans. “I have asked many, many questions about this and will continue to do so as we monitor the enrollment situation and our capacity needs.”

“Facilities staff say there is a moderation in enrollment growth, which would give us some relief from the astounding growth we’ve seen in the past few years,” Evans says. “However, the reality at our schools look somewhat different.”

Glen Forest Elementary School in Bailey’s Crossroads, for example, has more than 1,000 students and many of them attend class in modular units, which were not part of the permanent part of the building, she notes. Modular classrooms count as part of the school building in terms of determining whether a school is at capacity, while trailers don’t.

The 2017-21 CIP includes a total of $777 million over the next five years for new schools, capacity enhancements, and renovations. It includes funding for one new high school and three new elementary schools – none of them in the Annandale/Mason area.

After FCPS enrollment gained about 2,400 new students a year for the past six years, enrollment
growth is slowing down, the CIP states. The birth rate has slowed, while FCPS is seeing “a rapidly declining in-migration of new students.”

But while elementary enrollment is projected to decline slightly every year over the next five years, enrollment in middle and high schools is projected to increase.

Glasgow Middle School is projected to be at 115 percent of capacity, and Luther Jackson at would be at 143 percent by 2020-21. Stuart High School would be at 119 percent.

The enrollment trends are inconsistent across the county, the CIP states, which might necessitate boundary adjustments.The CIP does discuss the impact of new development but does not recommend changes in how many new students are project or how proffers are calculated.

Among other elements in the CIP that affect schools in the Annandale/Mason District area: 
“It is indeed intensely frustrating that this last legacy high school is not farther up in the queue,” says Evans. “However, I have confirmed several times, at our work session and at the board table the other night, that FCHS will be on the 2017 school bond for planning money. That’s just the start, of course, but at least we are assured that it will get started then.”
  • Annandale Terrace Elementary School is on track for renovations to be completed in 2020-21. When completed, that school will have a capacity of 800 students.
  • The CIP calls for FCPS to work with Fairfax County “to construct a new community elementary school at the Willston Multicultural Center to alleviate potential future capacity concerns in the region.” That project is also listed in a Lines of Business document on public-private partnerships presented to the Board of Supervisors.
  • The CIP recommends reopening the Graham Road Community Building (the former Graham Road Elementary School) to provide capacity relief to elementary schools in the Falls Church, Marshall, and McLean pyramids.


  1. One question I have asked over and over and seemed to not get a good answer is why is modular's part of a building capacity. Modulars require students to leave a safe dry place to go to gym, library, office, clinic, lunch and much more. When there is a hurricane warning the modulars are not safe for the students so they have to leave the modular to go into the school. Having these count as capacity so they do not have to rethink renovations or boundary changes is not acceptable. High School & Middle School students have to change classes and only get a few minutes between classes and will have to grab a coat or umbrella to go to the modular class. Adults would not want to put up with this but we ask our kids to. Let me add that if our Board of Supervisor would enforce county Code Compliance laws our issues would not be so great in the Mason District.

  2. I wonder if more parents are taking they children out of the local public schools because of the overcrowding?

  3. Interesting thought. Highly likely.

  4. This is great news for the developers of Cherry Lane, south St/Rt 50, 7 corners, SE quadrant, to name a few.
    The one child per unit estimate should bring these schools back to over capacity.
    Oh, BTW, middle class families are NOT taking their children out of public schools ... they're MOVING to better public schools - out of Mason District/Annandale.

    1. I agree. People are leaving Mason District in droves.

    2. It is true I know of four families who sold their homes to move to a better school district with in Fairfax County.

    3. Move to where? I'm not moving out to bumbleville (Chantilly, etc.) and I can't afford a $1.5 million home inside the beltway in McLean. So, we will be staying put. I can't imagine what a horrendous commute I would have living in the exurbs of Fairfax County.

    4. Anecdotal 1027? I have yet to see this constant claim backed up with anything other than that.

    5. Three of the families moved out by George Mason University (two ended up at the same school) and one moved right outside the beltway in Annandale.

  5. It has been very common in the last 10 years in Mason District to hear a neighbor complain bitterly about the over-crowded:schools, streets, neighborhoods, homes etc. and the acute lack of county services but when you see a for sale sign on their house and ask why they are leaving they usually say they got a better job offer or something like that. For some reason they never give the obvious answer. Just the humiliation I guess.

  6. Everyone is trying to leave the "Dump" especially if they have kids.

  7. I resent your calling Mason District a "dump." I live in Mason Disrict and my neighborhood is not a "dump."' Too bad I have to share Mason a District with unhappy, disgruntled people like you.

    1. Well then do something about it.

  8. So...residents are complaining loudly that they don't want overcrowded schools. (I'm among them.) How many among us are aware that legislators keep refusing to spend more money on schools, in part because--according to them--"class size doesn't matter"?

    MAJOR disconnect, people. Speak up.

  9. Tuesday the BOS meets to "decide" on the SE quadrant.

    NO $ for new office Bldgs. Occupy already vacant bldgs.

    When you build new housing you get families w/ children ... so we NEED schools. If we want to rebuild our single-family neighborhoods, we need to build AFFORDABLE housing for low income residents; we already made room in Mason District for paupers graves, how about someplace for them to live. If we're going to spend millions to build a government facility for social services it MUST include A HOMELESS SHELTER.

    NO MORE $ for Penny's palace.

    1. I agree AL, but what you're saying makes too much SENSE.