JAMES CITY COUNTY — The James City County (JCC) Board of Supervisors discussed possible solutions to the issue of overcrowding at Williamsburg-James City County (WJCC) elementary schools, particularly potential preschool expansion options, during Tuesday, Nov. 23’s meeting.
The board heard a presentation from AnLar, LLC, a consulting firm contracted by WJCC back in March to conduct research and identify the needs of the early childhood system in the localities.
The firm also presented its findings to the WJCC school board during its Nov. 9 work session.
The study found that WJCC’s preschool population has nearly doubled from 2014 to 2019, with an increase in three-five year olds in JCC from 1,335 in 2014 to 2,363 in 2019.
In its findings, AnLar estimated that an additional 231 children in the county are eligible for preschool but are not currently being served, possibly due to limited space and capacity in these preschool programs.
AnLar noted that there is a critical need for additional preschool space in the county, suggesting the creation of either an integrated preschool or a separate preschool to increase capacity for eligible children.
The first option would see the preschools integrated into the elementary schools, which would facilitate transitions from preschool to kindergarten and increase family engagement, though potentially creating challenges regarding the disparity in salaries between elementary school and preschool teachers.
With the second option, the division would separate preschool into its own building, which the firm noted would provide high-quality services to children and families.
While the firm recommended the separate preschool approach in its presentation, several Board of Supervisors members were not in favor of that option, saying that the integrated preschool would be less costly than building a separate school.
“The cost is going to be a lot lower, and we’re not going to have to staff it, and all the stuff that comes with a new elementary school,” Chairman Michael Hipple said.
“It’s not that we don’t want to spend,” he added. “But we’ve also got to monitor our funds as well.”
While the board agreed that they are willing to spend the money to fix the capacity issue, several members commented that there needs to be more of a conversation had between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Ruth Larson noted that she would have liked for the findings to be presented all at the same time so the two bodies could discuss possible solutions, as the capacity issue is included in the proposed FY23 – FY32 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).
The School Board, Board of Supervisors and City Council will hold a joint meeting on Friday, Dec. 3 to discuss the superintendent’s proposed FY23 – FY32 CIP.