York County needs to ask for more

My remarks as prepared for the 2016-10-24 School Board Meeting (w/ video):

York County Schools are overcrowded and substandard, and the planning we’ve done since 2009 has produced this situation, so we need to ask for more now and in the future.  I’ve discussed some of this in email with you all, and I want to note a few points on where we are, what the current plan is, and where we are headed.

On May 9th, Dr. James presented the current and planned levels of overcrowding at York Elementary Schools (see this).  Overall  we’re at 97% capacity and projected to go to 101% capacity, without including the new school.  The target crowding level is 85% to 90%.    Dividing the projected enrollment by 85% to reach the required capacity ( 5924/0.85=6970 seats) is a basic 6th grade math problem.  Subtracting from that the projected capacity to get the required additional capacity of 1,093 is a 3rd grade math problem. (6970-5876=1093 additional instructional capacity.)  We should be asking for 1093 seats of additional elementary instructional capacity to accommodate the developments already planned.  A 500 seat school is not enough.

The enrollment at 97% total elementary capacity that we are currently at makes it impossible to do any rezoning to solve overcrowding and and bring all the rezoned schools into the 85-90% range, so the schools like Yorktown Elementary (with a 608 instructional capacity) end up running at 115% (with 699 students. ) At 115% capacity, YES does not have enough resources to manage its own problems internally.

Doing the 6th grade math,  this means YES needed more than the modular building to bring capacity to ideal levels.  169 to 214 additional seats of instructional capacity since last year to bring it into the ideal range. Adding the modular is an improvement, but it isn’t enough.  Right now, YES has substandard parking, substandard hard surface playgrounds (zero), and substandard usable lot size (230 students).  The county calculates YES’s usable lot size at 6.3 acres (see here),  produces a site capacity of only 230 students.  The undersized site makes it so the temporary buildings use up all the state mandated hard surface playgrounds, and also require a permanent zoning variance to push the Head Start trailer over the building lines.  YES can’t manage its own problems internally when saddled with the current 115% capacity. Let alone the projected overcrowding of 137%.  To rezone the projected 834 students (or 137%)  down to the 85-90% level, you’d need to rezone 205-240 students away from YES.

Now 20 schools at about $25M each is about a half billion worth of school infrastructure that YCSD has to maintain. On a 40 year depreciation schedule, that is about half of a school worth of maintenance or 12.5M$ each year just to offset decay. And that’s without attempting to finance a new school out of delayed maintenance.  From what I understand, the county directed YCSD to ask for less by pushing most maintenance off another two years, lowballing delayed maintenance by ignoring inflation and decay,  and shortening the CIP plan to 6 years to push things off the end of the planning window.

In 2009, seven years ago, YCSD started planning the new school to cover the expected  development, and that lead time wasn’t near enough to offset 7 percentage points worth of overcrowding we are experiencing.   In light of past performance, can you honestly say that the 6 year plan the with the 500-700 seat school in middle that you’ve delivered the Board of Supervisors is going to bring the York Elementary School System up to state standards?

The Board of Supervisors has not given you everything you ask for, but you should certainly be asking for enough to cover the planned development on the books with schools at state standards. You should also make it clear how shortchanging your plan will continue to produce substandard schools.

Overall with 5457 K-5 students, we’re at 97% capacity and projected to go to 101% capacity with 5924 students, without including the new school.  The target crowding level is 85% to 90%.    Dividing 5924 by 85% to reach the required capacity of 6970 seats is a basic 6th grade math problem.  Subtracting from that the projected capacity of 5876 to get the required additional capacity of 1093 is a 3rd grade math problem.  We should be asking for 1093 seats of additional elementary instructional capacity to accommodate the developments already planned.  A 500 seat school isn’t enough


York County Elementary Usable Lot Sizes

The York County Elementary School system has inadequate lot sizes compared to the current and planned enrollment and development.   With a current enrollment of 5457 planned to increase to 5924, the combined lot size capacities add up to 3090, projected to go to 3560.  These numbers are based on the State Board of Education guidelines and Mark Carter’s buildable areas at the 11 school sites.

The York County BOS recently approved a new lot for a new elementary school in the Marquis development (See Oct 4 BOS Meeting Minutes.)  Prior to the meeting I noticed that the published 14.74 acre lot size, as compared to the state Board of Education standards appeared to be small for an ultimately 700 student school.  For a 700 student school, the VA DOE standards specify a minimum “usable site size” of 11 acres (4 acres + 1 acre per 100 students — See VA DOE school standards)  The “usable site size” is the buildable area on parcel, not the entire, and can be much smaller than the total acreage.

In looking at Yorktown Elementary School, the 14.09 platted area combined with the 50′ setback lines from the ‘RC’ zoning trims the usable area down to about 10.78 acres, or a site capacity of 678 students, and that is before reserving any land dedicated for parks and recreation fields.  Since the Marquis lots aren’t a simple shape like YES’s  rectangle, the usable land on the Marquis site could be much smaller.

The day of the last BOS meeting, I expressed concern about the planned size of the new school relative to the level of overcrowding.  After the meeting I saw the plat plan and followed up with a question about the “usable site size” within the building lines for the Marquis site.    On the 12th, I got the following information back, and it appears to show York County has very small lots for its elementary schools relative to the state standards:

Elementary School  Total Acreage   Building/Parking Pad   *DOE Site
Sites                              /Playgrounds Acreage   Capacity

Bethel Manor            9           6.7                   270
Tabb                   14.8         8.1                   410
Coventry               15           7.8                   380
Mount Vernon           15.7         6.2                   220
Grafton-Bethel         15.7         8.5                   450
Dare                   17.2         8.5                   450
Seaford                19.8         6                     200
Yorktown               14           6.3                   230
Magruder               14           7.3                   330
Waller Mill            14           5.5                   150

Marquis                14.4         9.7                   570

(Table source Chad Green, personal communication. *DOE Site Capacity calculated by David Forrest, using “Building/… Acreage” as “usable site size”, minus 4 acres times 100 students/acre)

For the Marquis site, the 9.7 acres of “Building/Parking Pad/Playgrounds Acreage” appears to provide only enough “usable site area” for a school of 570 children.  Far short of the ultimate planned school size of 700 students.

Like the problems at Yorktown Elementary, a too-small usable site size at Marquis could cause problems, like insufficient parking, awkward bus loading and dropoff, playground, temporary building variances, and other overcrowding issues.

2016 October BOS and SB

Update 2016-10-07: Today, Chad Green told me that the school division presented the new school plan to add 500 seats of instructional capacity.  Added to the future instructional capacity of 5878 at the existing schools, this makes a total future instructional capacity of 6378.  Compared to the planned enrollment of 5924 this gives a utilization of 5924/6378=92.8% — still larger than the 85-90% ideal range.  Adding 700 would bring it to about 90%, but this assumes York County won’t approve any new developments between now and when the new school comes online.   To reach an 85% level would require 5924/0.85-5878=1091 seats of additional instructional capacity.   Planning to add only 500 seats of new instructional capacity is still inadequate.


I’m concerned about the issue of the apparent mismatch between the size of the new elementary school (500 or 700 building capacity, ~425-595 instructional capacity) and the shortfall between anticipated elementary enrollment  (5924 children) and planned instructional capacity at the existing schools (5878 seats) — a planned shortfall of 46 students.

A shortfall of 46 students might not seem severe, but we need 942 to 1398 seats of new capacity to reduce overcrowding to the 85-90% level.

With the planned new school coming on line, but with the differences between building capacity and instructional capacity (instructional capacity is about 85% of building capacity), the and overcrowding at enrollment levels above 85-90% of instructional capacity,  the required expansion of the elementary system is a building capacity of at least 1866 seats (5924/0.90/0.85 – 6801 = 942).

If you expect any future development in York County in addition to the plans already on the books, one might plan for 85% utilization rate and would therefore need 1398 seats of additional building capacity  (5924/0.85/0.85 – 6801 = 1398)    York County needs  942 to 1398 new seats of building capacity at the elementary school level to solve the current and already foreseen overcrowding problems.   A new school with a building capacity of 500 seats will provide a solution for only  35% to 53% of the overcrowding problem.

If the single new school is supposed to solve the foreseeable and currently foreseen overcrowding problems, the new site should have had a “usable site size” of more than 27  18 acres within the building lines (and an actual site size of significantly more) to accommodate the anticipated shortfall of 1398 seats.  The two parcels in the Marquis South Pod Residential Development Plan (to be presented on October 4th) total 14.43 acres (=9.76+4.67 per the plat plan),  and provide about half of the area required to solve the anticipated elementary school overcrowding problem.

I’ve been writing the School Board and Board of Supervisors (see below) about these issues recently and have received no reassurance that the plans to solve overcrowding will produce better results than the results of the York County planning and management over the last seven years.


To the School Board prior to the 2016 September 26 meeting:

Dear School Board,

I am unable to speak at the meeting tonight due to a conflict with a back-to-school night.

I’m upset that after all the meetings, discussions and rezoning over the last year, we are still overcrowded and substandard at Yorktown Elementary School and the entire elementary system.  Since 2009, when the new school was first proposed in the CIP, delays, deferred maintenance, cuts, and band-aids have resulted in the current situation.  This year, Yorktown Elementary has 707 students on a lot sized for about 676 students, sharing a cafeteria designed for 500 students, and has playgrounds sized for zero students.

I’m concerned that the new school won’t solve the overcrowding problem.  If seven years of planning and managing problems as they came up got us to where we are now, we should look very carefully at our future plans to see what might happen.  Dr. James presented analyses of the last year’s elementary enrollment (5457 students total) and instructional capacity (5651 students) showing a 97% utilization (2016-05-09 presentation, slide 9) .  At 97% of capacity, redistricting couldn’t possibly solve overcrowding at Yorktown Elementary for this year, and that’s why the only redistricting enacted was to move the non-existent students in Yorktown Crescent.

Looking forward, Dr. James’ projections anticipate 5924 students with an expanded instructional capacity of 5876 in existing schools, or 101%.  (2016-05-09 presentation, slide 13) If you build the new school out at an instructional capacity of 500, then the total elementary instructional capacity becomes 6376, which brings the utilization down to 92%.   If you build the new school at 700 students, the system capacity is 6596, and the utilization is just over 90%.

From Dr. James numbers, instructional capacity is about 85% of building capacity, so I’m curious if plans for the new school to be built at 500 or 700 capacity means an instructional capacity of 500 or 700, or more like an instructional capacities of 425 and 595. Dr. James also mentioned that the ideal level of enrollment should be in the 85%-90% range, which anticipating 5924 students, means that the entire elementary system should have an instructional capacity of 6582-6970 students, which is 706-1093 more students than Dr. James projection of future instructional capacity at existing schools of 5876.  With instructional capacity at 85% of building capacity, to serve the anticipated elementary enrollment, the new school (or schools!) should have a building capacity of 942-1398 students.

And that is ignoring any new development projects, the little footnote in the CIPs about the Marine Corps reconsolidation, or any other uncertainties between now and when the new school is open.

I really do not understand how the current plan can deliver adequate school resources to meet the state standards or solve overcrowding.

I do not think the school board has been, nor is, asking for enough, and the BOS is certainly not going to give you more than you ask.

I wrote my Board of Supervisors representative that I was disappointed that, knowing that we’d have these capacity problems since 2009, we have ended up where we are now.  With about 20 schools worth maybe $25 million each, we’ve got about a half billion worth of school infrastructure that needs maintenance and management.  With a 40 year depreciation schedule, that’s about 12M/year in baseline maintenance.  By being cheap, York County is delivering overcrowded and substandard schools.  The published BOS and YCSD plans look like we’re planning for years of overcrowding and sub-standard schools, like we’ve done since 2009.


To the BOS prior to the September 20, 2016 meeting: (BOS video archives)

I cannot attend the BOS meeting tonight, since it conflicts with back-to-school night.  If I were there, I would to say something like this:

After all the meetings, temporary trailers, and rezoning from last year, Yorktown Elementary School remains overcrowded.  Since the new elementary school was first planned, we’ve known we were going to have an overcrowding problem.  Since 2009, we’ve delayed building, added developments, deferred funding, and deferred maintenance. Yorktown elementary has 707 students this year, on a lot sized for 676, in a building sized for 608, a cafeteria sized for 500, and playgrounds sized for zero students. How can YES be a magnet school if it has no excess space?

To reach a 85-90% utilization target at YES, the temporary buildings would have needed to add 224 to 277 new seats over last year.  With overcrowding at YES at 115% last year, using redistricting to get to a 90% target would have required moving 151 students out of YES. But there is no place to move them to.  The entire elementary school system is at 97% capacity, so there isn’t a way to shuffle students around to achieve non-overcrowded schools across the county.  The redistricting that was done last year, moving Yorktown Crescent, moved no actual students.

I think York County is being cheap, and it is affecting the schools.  We’ve known that we could have an overcrowding problem since 2009 when we first put the new elementary school in the plan.  Now, seven years later, we seem to act surprised by overcrowding at YES.  One might say that it is a planning problem, but the reality of the fiscal goal of no new taxes is that something has to lose, and in the county budgets, we chose that the schools would lose. The county has not given the schools the resources to keep up with state standards.  This year, YES has neither of the two hard surface playgrounds required by the state board of education. YES has more students than fit on its lot size, and that is before sharing the fields with Parks and Recreation.  Last year, the county shortened the planning window to six years, and deferred more than 20M$ of school maintenance.  This year, there’ve been cancellations of school orientations due to HVAC malfunctions.  Looking forward, even building the new elementary school at full 700 student capacity size, will not bring the elementary school projections into the ideal 85-90% capacity range.  And that is ignoring the Marine Corps consolidation and any new future development approvals.  We are not planning ahead any better than we had planned to get ourselves into this temporary-building, overcrowded, no-playground mess.  What do supervisors do?

The county can average in historical recession year funding to make school funding look huge, and the county can direct the schools to ignore inflation and depreciation to lowball deferred maintenance in order to meet some vision of financial reality.  But the physical reality of maintaining 20+ schools to state standards costs serious money.  Being cheap means that York County is delivering overcrowded, substandard schools.