Despite support for Arlington planetarium, future of aging facility appears dim
Thursday, April 15, 2010
A petition to save Arlington County's David M. Brown Planetarium is 800 signatures strong and there are more than 3,000 fans on the related Facebook page, but the facility is still cut from the proposed schools budget.
"There are a couple of weeks before [the public schools budget] is final," said James Gartner, a member of the organization working to save the 40-year-old planetarium before the April 29 cutoff date.
Patrick K. Murphy, Arlington schools superintendent, said during remarks updating his budget figures last week that school officials are "in a dialogue" with planetarium supporters.
"I would encourage us to continue to keep this dialogue open, evaluate positions . . . and think about a window of time ranging anywhere from 12 to 18 months" to see whether the community can raise enough money to keep the institution open, Murphy said.
The planetarium's $230,000 operating budget is cut from the proposed fiscal 2011 budget because the facility is outdated and requires about $500,000 in upgrades. School officials have said the money is needed elsewhere in the system.
Gartner said a core group of supporters is becoming a nonprofit, but he fears that without the School Board's support, the planetarium could still be closed by July.
"If we don't get that other year, we believe any fundraising activities would be sabotaged if the planetarium is already closed," he said.
Last week, the School Board presented the Arlington County Board with a $439.8 million budget, $2.3 million less than what Murphy proposed in February, primarily because of less state funding.
The new budget figures include several English as a second language specialists who were previously cut, thanks to updated student enrollment numbers and adjustments made by the state to the required retirement accounts for school employees.
School-based substitutes, many transportation cuts and higher sports fees also were reinstated, Murphy said.
Students and teachers from the Langston and Arlington Mill continuing education programs spoke at the board's meeting last week requesting no changes to the programs.
The system has proposed to reduce the continuing education teachers' salaries by 17 percent, add days to their school year and cut instructional time so the program is more consistent with high school schedules, said Betty E. Hobbs, assistant superintendent of personnel. The adjustments allowed all of the teachers to keep their jobs and put the program in a better position for future initiatives, she said.