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Williamsburg officials say a resident survey prompted them to look at an independent school system. The survey didn’t ask that question.

Williamsburg voted Thursday to move ahead with a study of an independent school district - but says a split isn't a sure thing, despite preview vote by James City County. (Image courtesy of Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools)
Hornsby Middle School. (Image courtesy of Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools)

When Williamsburg officials introduced the idea of splitting the Williamsburg-James City County Public School System last year, they cited feedback from a resident survey as one of the main reasons to consider ending the nearly 70-year partnership.

But the survey, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, doesn't ask residents if they want Williamsburg to be an independent school system.

Instead, the questions ask whether respondents prioritize education and whether or not they want to look at partnerships with Colonial Williamsburg or William & Mary.

City Manager Andrew Trivette told WHRO in 2023 that community partnerships would develop more easily with an independent Williamsburg system.

“Obviously, I think it's easier to do that with a smaller system than it would be for the larger system,” he said.

The survey questions don't mention partnerships could mean Williamsburg needs to pursue an independent school system.

Williamsburg Mayor Doug Pons acknowledged the survey didn’t ask residents if they wanted to split from James City County, but he said he thinks more people in the city are interested in doing so than not.

He said he’s heard the idea talked about casually since he was a student at Lafayette High School.

“But what we never had was the information to help us understand that question,” he said.

The city paid $135,000 for a feasibility study released last month. It found an independent system would carry an initial price tag of $18.9 million, and would have a $2.4 million operating deficit in its first year. 

Standards of Learning scores, broken down by locality, show James City County students outperform city students in every category. 

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

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