YCSD Redistricting doesn’t solve overcrowding in its elementary schools

The proposed redistricting plans do not solve the overcrowding problems at Yorktown Elementary and other schools in York County.

York County posted some modification plans of the attendance zones for the elementary schools for the 2017 April 17 special meeting which seems to show that moving the zones will solve the overcrowding problem.  However, in the analysis they present, they revert to using the building capacity numbers rather than the instructional capacity numbers the School Division put forward last year.

Using the 2016 instructional capacities with the proposed redistricting plans gives the results below.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 12.33.22 PM

(Excel spreadsheet:YCSD_redistricting)

I’ve highlighted the overcrowded elementary schools with enrollments above the level of 85-90% of instructional capacity that Dr. James spoke of as the ideal range of instructional capacity utilization. Note that the WMES numbers include the in-process addition.

Looking at the numbers for the proposed plans, several of the schools currently in or below the ideal 85-90% range will be pushed up to nearly 100% of utilization of instructional capacity.

See these resources:

2017 April 17 Exec Summary of Attendence Zone Changes

2016 May 9 Instructional Capacity Presentation


Questions for the BOS and YCSD

I asked these questions in email, at the March 20 School Board Meeting (video) and at the March 21 Board of Supervisors meeting (video at 56:30).

Do you know what it would cost or what it would take to get the schools to meet state standards?

Do you know what it would cost or what it would take to get the overcrowding down to the 85-90% level?

Do you know what it would cost or what it would take to provide adequate school resources to cover the planned developments?

If you don’t know what it would take to provide adequate resources, you aren’t doing a good job of oversight.

The Marquis site has a usable lot size of 9.7 acres, per Mark Carter. (York County Elementary Usable Lot Sizes)  A 700-core capacity elementary school requires 11 acres of usable lot size, per the state DOE standards. (see here)  The new site does not meet state standards for a 700 student core capacity school.

Dr. James presented a projection of 5924 students in 5876 seats of “revised instructional capacity” as 101% overcrowding.  (2016 May 9)  With a full build out the Marquis school to 700 students, this is a projection of 5924/(5876+700)=90.1%, which is at the top end of the 85-90% range, and that assumes there is no new development in York county before the Marquis school is built out.  Even at 700 seats, there isn’t enough excess capacity planned to reduce overcrowding to acceptable levels.  With Marquis at 500, it is 92.9%.

Yorktown elementary has trailers parked on its two hard surface playgrounds, no librarian, and has had class sizes of 37 students.  We are currently providing inadequate, substandard schooling.

I don’t trust the planning that got us into the state we are in, and from looking at the current plans, it really doesn’t seem like the board is aiming to do better.

I fear that you do not know what it would take to fix these problems, and that the school board has not provided a plan to cover these necessities.

What I want you to do now is to direct the school division to plan to meet state standards, to eliminate overcrowding, and to cover developments already approved by the county.  If you expect any additional growth in the next few years, you should include additional planned capacity to cover it.  We should aim to provide enough capacity for 85% utilization rather than the already overcrowded 90.1% or 92.9% utilization provided by the 500 or 700 seat Marquis school plan.

YCSD’s mission — Provide Adequate Resources?

Comments at 2017 Jan 23 YCSD School Board Meeting as prepared:

My parents and few others have asked me what I want to get out of standing up here.  I would like you to provide adequate resources to enable our children to thrive.

York County School Division recently ran several Strategic Planning Forums to examine and revise the strategic plan (YCSD Mission, (flyer) Goals, Objectives and Strategic Plans).  I participated in the Grafton Session on Jan 13th.

The most recent status update is the 2016 Strategic Plan Update which identifies a number of the goals and sub-objectives and correlates these with metrics and assessments.  Part of the visioning exercise was identifying changes to the objectives.  In light of the overcrowding and inadequate resources, I looked at the mission, goals and objectives for something addressing the responsibility of YCSD to provide adequate resources to meets state and federal standards and to avoid overcrowding.  None of the objectives seems to capture this idea, instead prescribing standards that the students and teachers must meet.

The closest items were under the Goal #5 “he York County School Division will maintain efficient, effective, service-oriented operations that support student achievement in safe, secure environments”:

  1. Objective: Customer needs will be met or exceeded by Operations Staff members. Customer service surveys will be conducted by November 1 of each year. Survey results will be used to support the provision of efficient, effective, service-oriented operations.
  2. Objective: Staff will create a ten-year facility master plan and a proposed capital improvement program aimed at maintaining safe, high-quality facilities. Annual building inspections, roof surveys, data relating to work orders, revised construction cost projections, and updated long-term enrollment projections will be used to identify needed adjustments.
  3. Objective:  Staff will support safe, secure educational environments. Examples of activities relating to this objective include the following actions: collaborating with local public safety agencies; maintaining appropriate administrative staffing; conducting annual maintenance of surveillance cameras and access control; reviewing/refining crisis management plans annually; and participating in safe schools training.

I suggested they add an objective for the YCSD to provide adequate facilities meeting state and standards; and another objective to reduce overcrowding to the 85-90% level.

I do not think YCSD meets these objectives.  Overcrowding of the elementary system is at the 97% level overall, which makes it impossible to redistrict schools into the 85-90% level.  Schools on the North end of the county are overcrowded at the 143%, 113, and 115% levels.  These burdens on inadequate sites make it impossible to meet state standards, like the complete lack of outdoor hard surface play areas at YES, as compared to the state standard requirement of two.

I would like you to develop a strategic plan that provides adequate resources to enable our children to thrive.  Your strategic planning since 2013 hasn’t accomplished that, and with the current CIP and communications between the board and BOS, the future looks bleak.

You’ve made tradeoffs between adequate facilities and limited resources, settling for a 9.7 acre usable lot size for a core 700 student school which would require 11 acres.  Inadequate site size at the existing school makes the parking and drop-off management complicated and dangerous, necessitating future, expensive redesigns to correct problems that could have been avoided in the initial design.  Sharing sites with other programs might looks like a cost efficiency, but it puts additional burdens on limited lot sizes.

The Strategic Plan’s Mission, Goals, and Objectives should provide guidance to organization members make decisions, tradeoffs, and plans consistent with the organizations values.  The current plan makes demands of the students and teachers without committing to providing adequate resources.

I know three families who’ve avoided moving to Yorktown because of the elementary schools.

In the past year, you’ve compromised and deferred significant amounts of maintenance and improvements at no apparent cost, trading plans for adequate resources for compliance with a weak revenue growth model, and encouraging the BOS to cut your budgets even further. Is the demographic, development, and depreciation models so inferior to economic model that this is a good idea?

When I asked about the county budget planning specifics, Jeffrey Wassmer and Neil Morgan said the numbers are “placeholders”, and “a plan is a plan” to express the uncertainty in the out years.

The long term CIP should have “placeholders” that provide adequate resources to meet state standards and reduce overcrowding to 85-90%.

What I want out of the strategic plan, the CIP and my time standing up here is an plan, one where you take responsibility to provide adequate resources for our children to thrive.

York county is planning for decay rather than growth

My comments at the 2016 November 15 BOS meeting  (video posted in the video archive ):

The new elementary school is inadequate.  At 500 seats, it does not provide the capacity needed to cover the enrollment expected by the development plans already on the books.  At a 9.7 acre usable lot size, as in the email from Mark Carter that I forwarded to you, the proffered Marquis site is substandard for a 700-seat core capacity school.

On March 1st, Neil Morgan presented the 10-year historical funding average of 6.7M/year. (see Neil Morgan’s March 1 presentation)  That could be adequate to offset decay on 250M worth of infrastructure on a standard 40 year depreciation schedule, but with 20 schools, each worth more than 25M each, York County Schools has more than a half billion worth of infrastructure, and we aren’t keeping up.  This is a recipe for decay and substandard schools.   Our entire elementary school system is currently at 97% capacity, with the most stressed schools operating at 113-143% capacity. (See Dr. James May 9 presentation)  Redistricting to get the YCSD schools into the 85-90% range is impossible with the system-wide load already at 97%.  At Yorktown elementary with 115% capacity, the school has substandard parking, substandard lot size, a substandard cafeteria, and substandard hard-surface play areas.  Both of its play areas have temporary buildings parked on them until the new school comes on line. How can you expect YES to function as an effective magnet school if it is already so far above capacity? And the proposed CIP extends the modular building leases out another two years to 2021.  (See FY2018 proposed CIP  p11.)

I’ve told the school board should it ask for more from the county, but from what I’ve been told, the county directed the school division to limit its plans to match the county’s economic projections under the no new revenue model. Specifically with last year’s deferrals, they were directed to ignore the added costs of inflation and decay. If you were to ask a roofing contractor to defer a quote for two years and hold to the same price, they’d laugh at you and tell you it could cost 20% more.  If you direct the School Division to make unrealistic assumptions to meet your economic targets, rather than tell it to ask for enough to maintain the schools, we’re doomed to continue to have substandard schools. With inadequate funding, it is not a Capital Improvements Plan, it is a Capital Decay Plan.

Since 2009 we’ve known that today’s level of school enrollment was in the works, and yours and the school divisions funding and planning produced the current dismal level of overcrowding and substandard schooling.  This unacceptable outcome should not have been a surprise.

This six-year plan does not cover the enrollment projections already on the books.  The Waller Mill addition and the 500 seat Marquis school will only bring the system down to 93% capacity, still too high for rezoning to bring the schools below 90%.   And that’s ignoring adding any capacity for new development not yet on the books. Are you folks asking good enough questions? Do you understand the implications of your decisions?

Your central job is supposed to be planning and oversight, but from the plans so far, it looks like you are planning for continued substandard schools and continued decay of the York County school system.

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.