Since the summer, the topic of school capacity and possible redistricting has lingered in the air, but it was not until Tuesday night that the Hanover School Board delved into discussion.
Although the board did not reach a general consensus, at least four of seven board members expressed concerns that they are not sold on the need for redistricting.
“If we are going to use our buildings most efficiently, in my mind, you want to be as close to 100 percent as you can,” said Bob L. Hundley Jr., the board’s chairman and Chickahominy District representative.
Hundley said that would relieve worries about facility capacity numbers, unless a large development comes into the picture that would impact student growth in a specific area.
According to the board’s current standard, a school is not defined as overcrowded until it has reached 120 percent capacity for three consecutive years. But, ultimately, the board can decide to adjust school boundaries if they deem it necessary.
One board member Glenn Millican Jr., representing the Mechanicsville District, did not express a need for redistricting and emphasized that it may cost more than some would think.
Millican said that moving students from one school to another would not cut down on costs. If students were shifted, class sizes would increase and ultimately any savings would come from teachers having to instruct more students, said David Myers, assistant superintendent of business and operations.
“So, theoretically you can increase your cost by moving [students] because of distribution, rather than keeping them where they are,” Millican said.
Beaverdam District representative John F. Axselle III raised a concern about the amount of time and money it took from senior division staff to compile the facilities assessment to determine whether or not school capacity is an issue.
“We’re spending a great deal of money and time to justify something that data is not proving,” Axselle said. “I don’t see it.”
Henry District representative Earl Hunter Jr. said he agreed with board members Axselle and Millican. Hunter said he did not feel that changes to school boundaries are needed right now.
“I don’t see where we have a need to move kids, we don’t show an increase,” Hunter said. “Why should we make any decisions at this time?”
But some board members are standing strong and believe that there is a need. Norman Sulser, Cold Harbor district representative, who has led the charge to redraw boundaries, said he still believes that some school buildings are not being used to their full capability while others are close or near 100 percent capacity. Sulser gave the example of the newest high school, Hanover High, which is at 76 percent capacity.
“We’re not fully utilizing that building,” Sulser said.
Hank Lowry Jr., Ashland District board member, echoed similar thoughts, but is concerned with the operational costs of the buildings. Lowry asked if it would be more cost efficient to have more students at a school like Hanover High School rather than another building that may be smaller in size and have more students.
“To me, it’s a fact of trying to equalize the use of all our assets,” Lowry said.
More discussion on the division’s use of school facilities and how space can be better utilized will continue at another work session, Hundley said. But this won’t be the last of its kind. Hundley said the board plans to host several more work sessions on various topics.
At the March 25 session, each board member ranked their top priorities and the division staff compiled those into a list of five main discussion items for the evening including employee compensation structures, transportation, instructional program offerings (such as dual enrollment) and facilities planning.
The idea was to give school officials a sense of the issues that were most important to the board from a list of 13 different topics including athletics, policy review and career and technical education program offerings.
By the school board’s April 8 meeting, Superintendent Dr. Jamelle Wilson said her staff would bring recommendations for how the board should go forward.