BOS Requests Revote on Elementary School 19 Location

by Adele Uphaus

The Stafford Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to draft a letter asking the School Board to stop work on building Elementary School 19 at Brooke Point High School. Instead, it will ask the School Board to vote for a third time on accepting a proffered school site in the Embrey Mill subdivision in the Garrisonville district.

“We are trying to give [the School Board] every opportunity to fix what they have done wrong, rather than pull the nuclear option of withholding funding,” said Crystal Vanuch, Rock Hill district representative.

The School Board voted in October to put the school at Brooke Point in order to stay on a timeline to open two new elementary schools in August 2026. As Chair Maureen Siegmund explained to the Advance this week, the Board believed one of the schools should go east of Interstate 95, in order to reduce transportation time for students living in the Aquia area of the county.

Starting in January, supervisors and some members of the community questioned that decision.

Vanuch’s motion to draft the letter was approved by a vote of 5-to-1. Monica Gary, Aquia representative, voted against the motion, while Tinesha Allen, vice chair and Griffis-Widewater representative, abstained.

Gary voted against sending the letter because she said she doesn’t feel confident that the Board of Supervisors will support the tax increase that is required to fund the school division’s needs and that therefore, Elementary School 19 will never be built.

Prior to making her motion, Vanuch read aloud an email that she said was written by Lionel White, Director of Facilities Planning for the school division.

The email, from May 2023, which the Advance received through a request under the Freedom of Information Act, was in fact White’s response to a series of bullet points prepared by a School Board member summarizing her recent meeting with him.

The School Board member asked White to inform her if any of the points, which summarize reasons for building Elementary School 19 in the Garrisonville district, were inaccurate.

White made some edits to the bullet points. Incorporating his edits, the email states that Anthony Burns Elementary School is the closest school for the “sliver” of students who live between I- 95 and U.S. 1—students who “disproportionately” represent the population of students eligible for free and reduced lunch at that school.

These students could be redistricted out of Burns and into the new elementary school at Brooke Point, according to answers provided by school division staff to questions posed by Supervisors prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

The email also states that students living east of I-95 “would not benefit” from a new school in the Courthouse Road area because Burns is their closest school, and that students from Aquia Harbor, who now attend Hampton Oaks Elementary, cannot be redistricted without either splitting that neighborhood into multiple schools or increasing students’ transportation time.

In the email that the Advance received through a FOIA request, the last few points are redacted. But according to Vanuch, who read the email out loud on Tuesday, they state that “the Embrey Mill site is the only site that meets the timeline [to open in August 2026], puts Elementary Schools 18 and 19 on the same schedule … and alleviates the compression in and on the most populated sections of our county,” and that not using the Embrey Mill site will cost the county “an additional $5 million minimum.”

Hearing this email, which was sent after the School Board voted twice last spring by narrow 4-to-3 majorities to reject the Embrey Mill site for Elementary School 19—appeared to change how several Supervisors planned to approach the issue.

George Washington district representative Deuntay Diggs said the email brings up “very serious” issues concerning which school students from a lower socioeconomic status attend.

Allen said she has always been willing to support the school division as long as School Board members “are willing to be transparent with me” and that “in light of this email,” she isn’t sure there has been transparency.

Following the vote, Allen said she abstained because she still has “ten million questions” about the School Board’s decisions regarding Elementary School 19.

Pamela Yeung, who represents the Garrisonville district where Embrey Mill is located, said that she approved funding both Elementary Schools 18 and 19 as part of the budget for the current fiscal year under the assumption that ES 19 would be built at Embrey Mill, as was the recommendation of school division staff.

She said she does not feel the School Board has been transparent with either the Brooke Point or Embrey Mill communities regarding its decision.

Addressing the supervisors on Tuesday, division superintendent Thomas Taylor said the Brooke Point location of ES 19 is not optimal.

He said the School Board “felt some pressure to deliver a school on time.”

He said the choice not to put the school at Embrey Mill is “a conversation that you can and should have with your School Board members,” but that the decision “did limit some options and the only available options were property in hand,” such as Brooke Point.

One of the two proffered school sites in Embrey Mill also now belongs to the county as of this week. The law firm of Healy and Leming, which represents Embrey Mill developers North Stafford Associates, conveyed a 33-acre portion of tax parcel 29-53K, at the corner of Mine Road and Coastal Avenue, to Stafford County on February 20.

Taylor said abandoning the Brooke Point location for ES 19 will result in about $1 million in sunk costs related to site preparation and design, but that other costs related to delaying would be estimates only.

Jason Towery, the school division’s Executive Director of Facilities and Maintenance, said shifting the location of ES 19 at this point will throw off the timeline to open in 2026.

“At this point, we could not deliver Embrey Mill in 2026,” he said. “There are too many hurdles we would need to cross.”

Managing Editor and Correspondent