Montgomery County Schools at capacity tipping point, board urges changes

More people moving in means more classroom space needed

By Shayne Dwyer - Reporter

CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. - Some Montgomery County students may soon be hitting the books in different classrooms. The school board is heavily considering redistricting some elementary students in the Christiansburg area and that's just phase one of the plan.

Members of the school board in Montgomery County are facing an uphill battle as the area continues to grow. Moving those 100 students in Christiansburg would just be a temporary plug. But it's one step in a multi-step process searching for a long-term solution to figure out where current and future students will go.

The decision is one of the board's most difficult in recent times. The New River Valley is celebrating its overall growth with a heavy focus in Montgomery County, but school leaders need to figure it all out.

"It is complex, it's definitely growing, Virginia Tech is the one driving factor; when faculty moves, it brings families, too," Montgomery County School Board Chairwoman Gunin Kiran said.

Christiansburg Elementary and Christiansburg Primary are already feeling the effects, with both over capacity. The board is looking at shifting 100 students from Christiansburg to Falling Branch Elementary. The board was previously looking at adding an additional 50 students to that number which would have required young students ride in buses that travel a short stretch of Interstate 81. That plan concerned some parents and those who attended Tuesday were happy to see it nixed.

"They did listen to us, they had the same concerns and they did look at a few options," Christiansburg parent Regina Ann Hutchins said.

Tuesday night, the board talked the plan over in its work session and a vote on what to do wouldn't come up until April. They only thing they're sure of right now is the plan to shift those 100 students to Falling Branch Elementary, where they would make use of recently upgraded and expanded space. That school is currently undercapacity and has the room to absorb the transfer.

"It is important for us to be efficient, I mean, if we're not efficient, it costs us money and it costs kids a good education. We need to do something," Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Mark Miear said.

With that said, there still aren't enough elementary seats division-wide to go around and who goes where is just the tip of the iceberg. Renovations at schools division-wide, with no zone changes, would be ideal, but that takes a long time.

"We really cannot wait, that's my thing. We've been talking a long time and Christiansburg citizens have been waiting a long time so it's time to find the formula that we can afford and get things done," Kiran said.

The work session did not touch much on Christiansburg High School, which is also overcrowded. No matter what, general renovations are needed at the Christiansburg schools, and the question is how to pay for it. The county and the school are looking more into that, saying they need to do whatever it takes.

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