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How Prince William leaders plan to work together to eliminate trailer classrooms in the county’s public schools

WOODBRIDGE — Elected leaders vowed Tuesday night to work across legislative bodies to find new school site for Prince William County students.

More than $163 million is needed over the next 10 years to eliminate trailer or portable classrooms at county schools. That’s in addition to the school division’s 10-year, $1.2 billion capital improvement plan.

School Board members met with the County Board of Supervisors, where they learned the construction of two new middle schools, and 50 new elementary school classrooms would eliminate the need for trailers by 2028.

Until now, leaders had relied on proffers from developers, of donated land inside new housing developments, where new schools could be built. Changes in state law enacted last year prohibit local officials from seeking those new school sites and have forced the county’s school division and Board of Supervisors — the taxing authority — to examine purchasing future school sites.

Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, At-large urged members of both boards to pressure state General Assembly members to reform a proffer system that leaves their hands tied when it comes to pushing developers for incentives. While the Board of Supervisors has approved far fewer new housing developments over the past year, new homes continue to be built, by right, on previously zoned land.

“The Board of Supervisors approved six units in 2016, not 600, or 60, six. And when you’re not rezoning units, they go and build units designed 30 years ago,” said Stewart. “We’re not approving developments, but that doesn’t mean there is not any development going on.”

The move toward closer collaboration comes after a series of meetings of the Joint County/School Capital Process Team made up of members of the School Board and Board of Supervisors. Woodbridge District Supervisors urged members of both boards to come together sooner than later to work on a funding and land acquisition scheme.

“It seems like we’re all in violent agreement. We want to reduce class sizes, we want to remove trailers, and we want to move forward on land banking because buying it now is cheaper than waiting until later,” said Principi.

Building new additions to schools isn’t the same thing as reducing the number of students per classroom. Prince William County has the highest class sizes in the region.

“I had seven trailers at Vaughn [Elementary School] while I was principal, and then we built a wing, got rid of trailers,” said Occoquan District School Board Representative Lilly Jessie. “The only way you reduce the number of trailers is you have to build another school or build an addition.”

Building a new wing to a school only allows for students in overcrowded classrooms to move to a new classroom. Only the construction of a new school building can eliminate the need for trailers, school board members argued.

Building bigger schools is also a benefit. A push last year by Supervisors Peter Candland and Jeannie Lawson to increase by 500 seats the size of a planned 13th high school saved county taxpayers as much as $180 million.

Historically, the county school division has needed about 20 acres to build an elementary school, 60 for a middle school, and 80 for a high school. But with land becoming scarce, especially in the eastern side of the county, leaders will have to think outside of the box.

“If we’re going to build new schools where they are most needed, where existing schools are the most overcrowded, we may need to build the same schools on a smaller footprint,” said Coles District School Board Representative Willie Deutsch.

That may mean some schools could be built without what has been standard amenities, to include practice sports fields.

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