County supervisors divided over bond referendum
A Wednesday meeting of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors revealed a sharp rift between two of the six supervisors and their colleagues over a proposed addition to Woodbrook Elementary School.
During discussion of specific projects on a $35.5 million list for a potential November bond referendum, supervisors Brad Sheffield and Rick Randolph took exception to expanding Woodbrook Elementary, a $15.2 million item.
“We are masking the real problem, which is that we need another elementary school,” Sheffield said. “It is that long-term investment that I am concerned about.”
Sheffield, who represents the Rio District in northern Albemarle, said the addition would distract the public from what he said is the more pressing need — an entirely new school.
Division staff and most of the other supervisors disagreed.
“You cannot sacrifice the students who are living in overcrowded schools for the future consideration of building a new school,” Supervisor Diantha McKeel said in response to Sheffield. “You are going to have to do both, eventually. The addition to Woodbrook is the most immediate way to do that and the best use of the taxpayer dollars.”
School officials said the Woodbrook addition, which would happen over the next two fiscal years and add 300 students to the northern feeder pattern school, fills an immediate capacity need. Officials did not oppose a new building in the future but said it would take too much planning to solve the current need.
“This Woodbrook expansion … is strictly for capacity,” said School Board member Steve Koleszar. “That will meet our projections for the next five or 10 years. Beyond that, we will need to look at a new school.”
The expansion will bring the school to the 600-student capacity the division targets, Koleszar said. In another five to 10 years, he said, the division will likely need to look at building another school.
Division officials added that filling a new school would mean redistricting a large number of students from several schools just to fill the new building. An addition, they said, would serve students from a much closer geographical area and affect fewer schools.
“If you build a new school, you are going fill it with students from Woodbrook, from Greer, from Hollymead,” said Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer of county schools. “As we think about redistricting, go through the pains of redistricting, it is not inconsequential to look at public opposition to redistricting.”
Randolph argued that the division would naturally fill a new elementary school.
“When you start solving the problem with Band-Aids, you start falling behind,” Randolph said. “If you build it, they shall come. If you build it, we shall fill it.”
The county School Board last month signed an official letter supporting the proffer of an elementary school and a high school site as part of a rezoning related to the proposed Brookhill development.
Randolph said he also opposed the $10.9 million division-wide classroom modernization listed among the proposed referendum projects, as well as a $500,000 item to plan for county high school capacity expansion.
“The reason I am trying to whittle this figure of $35.5 million down is, politically, I think this will erode public support for the relocation of the county courts,” he said.
The board earlier in the evening asked county staff to take 60 days to come up with recommendations to relocate the district court to the county office building and explore alternate locations for the office building.
The county School Board will consider an official resolution supporting the bond referendum package Thursday. The package will then go to the Planning Commission at the end of the month for a public hearing. The supervisors will formally decide on the referendum early next month.