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Williamsburg estimates an independent school district would cost $18 million in first year

Williamsburg City Council listens to the first presentation of a feasibility study on creating an independent school district. (Photo by Laura Philion)
Williamsburg City Council listens to the first presentation of a feasibility study on creating an independent school district. (Photo by Laura Philion)

The City of Williamsburg says a plan to split its school division from James City County wouldn’t happen until August 2028 at the earliest and cost $18.9 million in the first year. 

The report, released Monday, said accounting for staffing costs, utilities, materials and other services, there would still be a $2.4 million operating deficit for the first year. The annual cost per student would rise from $14,803 in the joint district to $16,935.

Williamsburg’s city council voted to do the study in June 2023. 

City Manager Andrew Trivette said last year it was a response to resident feedback in city surveys.

“One of the themes that came back in the process was the city needs to continue to pay attention to innovation in the realm of public education,” he said.

Last July, James City County’s board of supervisors voted to end the joint school system in 2026, by which time it hopes to have built a new middle school.

In Williamsburg’s study, the city also has to account for facility changes. Williamsburg doesn’t currently have a high school in its limits, meaning it would need to either repurpose or build one to house  approximately 350 9-12th graders. 

The study suggested redesigning James Blair Middle School into a high school. Consultants didn’t attempt to estimate a redesign cost.

Consultants looked at what the proposed city district would need to do to earn accreditations and a good “report card” from the state. 

In an analysis of Standards of Learning scores for science, math and reading, Williamsburg students passed at lower rates in each category than students in James City County. 

It’s not immediately clear what impact those numbers would have on an independent district.


Williamsburg and James City County created a joint school district in 1955. It serves around 11,300 students from K-12th grade across 16 schools in the city and county. Ten-thousand of those live in the county, and just over 1,100 live within the city limits.

Growth rates between the two localities have changed since the 1950s, Trivette said. 

“At the time, the city really was driving the cost there and the ability to provide a quality education environment. And of course, now over time, that has shifted. James City County has the development potential. The city is largely built out,” he said.

Williamsburg Mayor Doug Pons said looking at the decision process at a 0-100 scale, “we’re at 5% right now.” He and council members stressed that now is the time for resident input.

“I want to make sure that I’ve heard from our residents. Clearly this has to be an extremely transparent process,” he said.

Pons said Monday the city would make time in its meetings later this month to hear concerns and feedback from residents. There is also a feedback portal on the city’s website, where the report is posted in full.

A note: Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO. Multiple members of the WJCC School Board sit on WHRO boards and committees.

This story was corrected March 12 at 9:38 a.m. to reflect James City County has a Board of Supervisors.

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