James City County votes to split schools from Williamsburg
Williamsburg and James City County are breaking up.
The county voted this week to end the contract that governs the joint school district the pair has run together since 1955.
Williamsburg’s city council said in June the city would study potentially splitting from James City County and creating its own school district.
But James City County’s Board of Directors preempted that study by voting unanimously to end the joint schools operation after a 90-minute closed session.
That will ultimately create two independent school districts, though not until at least 2025 when the current contract ends.
James City Board Chairman Michael Hipple addressed the vote and community concerns in a podcast posted by the county Wednesday.
“We didn't want to wait till the last minute and let the city say ‘okay, we decided that we're going to start our own school system,’ which is fine with us if they want to do that, it's not an issue. But we have a lot of planning to do,” Hipple said.
“We have 10,000 students. The city has roughly a thousand students. So it's a lot more to plan for 10,000 students than it is for 1,000 students. So there's a lot of things that go into this as far as financial. We need to look at land acquisitions. We need to look at buildings.”
Hipple said one of James City's biggest issues is the need for another middle school before the districts split. The joint Williamsburg-James City County school district operates three middle schools, but two are within the city's limits. All three of the joint district's high schools are located in James City County, which would leave Williamsburg with none as things stand today.
County Administrator Scott Stevens says the county’s asking to extend the existing contract to the fall of 2026 to give James City three years to construct that middle school.
The City of Williamsburg tweeted Wednesday it will proceed with the study, thought "our study will now necessarily focus more acutely on what an independent school system may look like."
Stevens also pushed back against community sentiments that this is a political game between the city and county during the podcast.
“I've seen some commentary about we're doing political tricks and mockery and all this other stuff. That's just not true,” he said. “It was the capacity and the ability to serve middle school students that drove them to make that decision ahead of waiting for the city to complete a study and [it] be this fall or perhaps next spring before we got a notice of termination and then we’re well behind trying to get out there.”
Stevens said there are still a lot of unanswered questions but they’re talking to both the City and the joint School Board.
NOTE: Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools is a member of the Hampton Roads Educational Telecommunications Association, which holds the broadcast license for WHRO.