The School Board may soon meet with consultants working on the county’s new comprehensive plan to discuss the public facilities element of the document.
At the Board of Supervisors and School Board Liaison Committee meeting last week, Planning Director Kirk Turner said the new comprehensive plan steering committee has been meeting for more than a year and, in that time, working with a consultant hired to bring a fresh perspective, analytical tools and knowledge of national best practices to the plan.
“We are exactly where we wanted to be at this point,” he said. The steering committee is challenging the consultants and the products they’re providing, which are good products, he said, and the consultants are “challenging us to be open-minded.”
Because the plan is being completed on such an aggressive schedule, the consultant has been working on various elements of the plan, which are then presented to the steering committee, he said. One element of particular interest to the School Board is the public facilities plan draft, he said.
“We think it would be beneficial to have the consultants meet with the School Board,” Turner said. Then, the hope would be that the board would direct the school system’s staff to continue working on the plan, he said. Timing is critical, and, if possible, the meeting with the board should take place this month, he said.
Matoaca District School Board Member Omarh Rajah said he was concerned that it seemed like the school system was just now being asked for its input. School Board Chairman David Wyman said the school system’s staff had attended and been asked for input at steering and technical support committee meetings. Rajah said it seemed to him “this discussion should have happened a year ago.”
To this point, Turner said, the consultants and steering committee members have been working with staff “a lot,” and haven’t gone to the Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission or other boards with this yet. However, he said, “it appears that given where we are today, that the School Board has interest in an informational update.” So, planners aren’t seeking input late, but rather giving the School Board an opportunity to participate before other boards can, he said.
Barbara Fassett, the county’s planning manager, said the current comprehensive plan does not have a countywide vision, and implementing a vision is “a really big paradigm shift.” In a nutshell, the vision says that, in the future, Chesterfield County will include urban, suburban and rural areas, she said.
Bermuda District Supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle asked whether rural areas would be expected to have smaller schools than urban areas, and what expectations came with the plan. When one considers parity of schools, she said, it’s easier and less expensive for bigger schools to offer more electives.
Matoaca District Supervisor Marleen Durfee said the comprehensive plan is of a general nature, and the steering committee is still working on the draft. Officials need to respect that the steering committee is “still in it,” she said.
Wyman said Jaeckle was trying to test the ideas in the draft plan by applying them to “real-life situations.”
“We’re just providing some feedback to what they’re talking about,” Wyman said. Later in the discussion, Wyman added: “We’ve run into a couple of issues over the last couple of months related to the current comprehensive plan.” The goal is to avoid such issues in the new plan, he said.
County Administrator Jay Stegmaier said the difficulty is that the integrity of the plan depends on walking a tightrope. The goal is to allow professionals with planning expertise to blend with citizens groups and create a draft without “the political influence,” he said.
“The various boards were asked to step back,” he said. Initially, it was a fairly easy decision, he said, but it gets more and more “threatening” as the draft plan nears completion.
Durfee said leaders need to be careful they don’t let anything political drive the comprehensive plan process. Stegmaier said the boards all deserve credit for sitting back and showing restraint.
“The nervousness is understandable,” he said.