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April 1995 Sully District Council Meeting
by Jeff Parnes

  1. At the April Sully District Council meeting Sully School Board Representative Gary Reese brought the members up to date on the current status of the Fairfax County school system. 3 Capital Improvements: ' The county is planning a new high school at a 159-acre site near Westfields. There will be 2500 rather than the normal 2000 students at the new school to allow for future growth. The School Board hopes to complete construction by 2001. The 1995 school bond contains funds for the school's planning and the 1997 bond referendum includes construction funding. If citizens approve the bonds, the county will need to continue to experience the current levels of cash flow (tax revenues). Otherwise, the county won't be able to issue the bonds raising funds to complete the high school by 2001. The School Board is trying to involve other county agencies and citizens in the master planning for the site. Some other uses for the remaining 100+ acres include a field house usable by the Park Service and the School Board. Gary indicted that future growth by George Mason University might force it to restrict usage of the field house in the near future, and that a field house on this site could be revenue generating. He also discussed a possible citizen's center there as well. There will be the usual ballfields. ' The School Board has given the authorization to acquire 40 acres for a new middle school at the corner of Centreville Road and McLearen Road. The parcel in question is behind the new gas station at that corner. The county has authorized the purchase either through negotiation or condemnation. The parcel owner may be better off if the county raises the threat of condemnation, because then the profit on the land is exempt from capital gains. The 1993 bond issue funded the $4 million cost for the school planning, and the 95 bonds include the $22 million construction cost. The new middle school, with a capacity of 1250 - 1300 students instead of the usual 1000, will relieve pressures on Herndon and Franklin Middle schools. If the county's cash flow remains in good condition the school should open in 1998. ' Other improvements in or near Sully District include: 3 Ten-room addition to Brookfield Elementary 3 Renovation of Londontown Elementary 3 Money for planning and acquisition in 95 bond for intermediate school to relieve Rocky Run and Cub Run. 3 New elementary school in Centreville 3 Planning for new elementary school in McNair Farms. Sully District will receive a total of 40 million out of the $200 million 1995 bond referendum. ' Gary emphasized that the capital improvement plan would only keep up with needs of Fairfax County residents if there was no acceleration of residential growth above and beyond what was projected in the county's master plan. Such acceleration is happening throughout the county -- in McNair Farms, for example, the county originally planned the area west of Centreville Road for other than residential, but changed it to residential. The same thing is happening in Worldgate in Herndon and just opposite Legato Road near Fair Oaks Mall. In addition, the increase in townhouse construction (which has become the entry-level single-family home for many in Fairfax County) means that more and more children now live in townhouse communities. The previous assumption that townhouse communities had little impact on schools (because they were either retirees, young singles or childless married couples) no longer is true. The impact of townhouses on county services is greater than detached single family homes, and with the county population becoming poorer, this all translates to greater demands on county and government services. The county also may have cash flow problems. Due to a limitation imposed by the Board of Supervisors to ensure the county keeps the highest possible bond rating, the county does not sell all the bonds planned for issuance in any one year. Currently the school system needs about $75 million each year to keep current the capital improvement program -- it's only getting in the mid-60's. In addition, communities with older schools, such as Langley and McLean, are visiting Chantilly and Centreville high schools. After seeing the vast differences between their schools and the newer or refurbished ones, they're asking that the renovation cycles for their schools be moved up from the planned 30 year cycles. This creates even greater competition for scarce facility dollars. 3 The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors just recently approved a school operating budget considerably ($34 million) smaller than what the schools requested. As chair of the budget committee, he will be responsible for identifying those areas to be reduced or eliminated. The School Board will try to insure that there will be no increase in class size, but school employees may lose their cost of living adjustments. Gary predicted that the 1997 budget may be in even worse shape than this year, as the budget surpluses decrease or disappear. The School Board is looking to hire an independent auditor in 1996. As Gary points out, the School Board manages a budget of over billion dollars without the ability to verify school system expenditures. He hopes the School Board will be able to hire independent program analysts to support itself -- as current employees are beholden to the school system bureaucracy. 3 The school system had mapped out a technology plan costing $111 million. The plan would eventually equip each class room with four computers. Gary has some concerns with the program. For one, he still hasn't been told what the schools will do with the computers once purchased. Secondly, the school system won't get to its goal at $5 million a year. What the school system needs is about $15-$20 million dedicated yearly. Otherwise he thinks it's just throwing good money after bad money. He would like to see a dedicated source of revenue, such as a hotel occupancy tax, local option increase, tourism tax, tobacco tax, entertainment or video tax (on games, tapes, computer games or rentals). Gary thinks that there's a small window of opportunity to accomplished this -- after the November election to about January 1996. He hopes to discuss this and other matters at an elected officials retreat he hopes the county will hold after the election. 3 Gary commented on Governor Allen's proposal to earmark lottery money to the school systems as a losing situation for Fairfax County. Because the rest of the state considers Fairfax a rich county, Fairfax gets only $45 back for each $100 sent to Richmond. 3 There are approximately 2624 administrative personnel in the school system, with 1300 clerical employees included in that count. The school system operates about 200 schools. The central administrative staff budget is about 1%, with the nationwide average at approximately 2%. 3 The present school board is divided, not into democratic or republican, or liberal or conservative members, but between those members who do or don't believe what the school system tells them. 3 Until such time as the county builds the new Sully District High School, population growth will force it to use more parkos at Chantilly and Centreville high schools. The limiting factor is the core facilities, such as toilets and cafeteria size, at each location. Centreville is in better shape to handle these overloads than Chantilly. 3 Gary is pushing a revised Language Arts Instructional Priority system. The emphasis would be on phonetics, expository writing versus journal writing, and the grading of all final papers for spelling and grammar as well as content. 3 Although serious discipline problems in the system decreased, there was an overall increase in the number of problems reported. Gangs are not yet a problem in the Sully District, but there has been a gradual increase in gang related incidents. The school system can not expel special education students, but is allowed to expel regular education students. The system is seeing regular education students who are in danger of expulsion requesting evaluations as special education students. The cost of a special education program is much higher than the cost of a regular education program. Gary would like to make a lower tier of special education available -- involving after school tutoring where required. He says the main objection is that parents complain that this interferes with after school activities, such as sports, religious or musical education. 3 Gary indicated that the legislature passed a bill that would allow citizens to request schools to require uniforms. He also indicated that there would be more Junior ROTC programs in the high schools.

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