Fairfax County parents in big fight to save school programs

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's like you worked all your life to get that lakeside retirement home, then the lake started to dry up.

Or you sacrificed to get the fab condo in a sweet part of town, then your favorite restaurants and shops all went dark.

For lots of people, the most compelling reason to live in Fairfax County isn't the fetching split-level architecture or the endless supply of Chick-fil-A locations.

It's all about the schools.

And now that some of the primo programs that make the county's public schools world-class are on the chopping block, it makes sense that the howls of parental protest are as loud as the jetliners taking off from Dulles International Airport.

Of course, Fairfax County is not alone in tough financial times. Across the region and the country, local governments are having to make deep cuts like they never had before.

In the District and Prince George's and Montgomery counties, schools have plans to possibly furlough employees, slash jobs and increase class sizes.

Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Jack D. Dale proposed to grow class sizes and ditch teachers, too, as a way to save. But then he went on to talk about the very programs that parents live for, the kinds of things real estate agents trying to move a particularly undistinguished rancher will memorize.

In this round of budget cuts, the county might have to end foreign language programs in elementary schools, cut the strings to some music classes, put summer school on ice, pull back on full-day kindergarten and eliminate freshman sports. The size and scope of the cuts are unprecedented for the 173,000-student school system, and more than $100 million in savings is going to be painful no matter where the ax falls.

"If this happens, we'll be just like all the other school districts," said Tina Meek, a Fairfax mom who is extreme in her reasons to live in the area.

She is among the thousands of middle class parents in Fairfax who don't live in cool neighborhoods or especially great houses. Many endure awful commutes so their kids can get a great education at a public school.

"It's all about the quality of our schools. It is an important part of who we are," said Marybeth Haneline, who chose to move to Herndon 14 years ago partly because of the excellent schools in the area. She is now fighting for the schools to remain committed to their plan for full-day kindergarten everywhere.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company