Arlington County School Supt. Larry Cuban will recommend to the School Board tonight which of three elementary schools should be studied further for closing.
The board last week selected Fairlington, Custis, Page and Ft. Meyer elementary schools as candidates for possible closing. At a work session Monday, the school board eliminated Ft. Meyer as a candidate for possible closing. School officials say the school board definitely will not close all three schools, but whether two or only one school will be closed still has not been determined. Closings probably would go into effect in September. "Not all three of the schools will be closed," Cuban said. "We will be pruning down the list as we study the situation at each school."
The school board will decide Feb. 3 which school or schools to close. A public hearing on the school closings will be held on Jan. 27 at the Arlington County Education Center.
An increasingly tight school budget and declining student enrollment prompted consideration of elementary school closures, which are only part of an overall school reorganization plan the county hopes will reduce operating costs and make maximum use of school facilities.
Ohter aspects of the reorganization include the projected closing of at least one of the county's seven junior high schools in 1978 when the ninth grade is moved from junior high to senior high schools, possible relocation of adult education programs and possible relocation or merger of the country's two alternative schools - schools designed to give students the opportunity for independent and more advanced study.
The school board is expected to decide on the relocation of Hoffman-Boston and Woodlawn alternative schools Feb. 17 and choose junior high schools to consider for closing March 8.
In a report to the school board on elementary school closings, Cuban said previous closing reviews took place in a "relatively unthreatened funding situation." Since then, he added, the funding situation for Arlington schools has sharply changed." Although the 1977-78 school budget has not been released, the board expects expenses to increase $2 million to $3 million over its present budget of $42.4 million. Cuban said federal, and particularly state, funds are uncertain from month to month, and that "increased costs of operating a quality school system have run into the ceiling on the amount of funds available to spend."
He noted that elementary school closings would save the county between $100,000 and $400,000 -not enough to pay for budget increases for 1977-78. However, selling or leasing the vacated school would earn more money, he said.
A school spokesman said one possiblity being considered by school staff is to rent whatever schools are closed to other county departments, like the Department of Recreation and Parks. Such an arrangement would help pay for bonds will outstanding on Fairlington and Custis elementary schools.
Fairlington, more than 30 years old and located in the southern end of the county near the new Fairlington condominium complex, has about $150,000 in bond payments to be met. Bonds paid for some $253,000 in improvements done at the school during the past 10 years. The improvements included building a new multi-purpose room and remodeling the school library.
Bond payment also are outstanding at Custis Elementary, although the exact amount is now available. Some $225,000 of a $6 million bond approved in a 1972 referendum went toward refurbishing Custis' air conditioning system last year. Custis, also more than 30 years old, is located in the Crystal City area where there is a relatively low school population due to the large percentage of retired people living in the area's high rise apartments.
It is estimated that Arlington schools would save between $74,000 abd $95,000 in operating costs by closing Fairlington Elementary School at 3308 s. Stafford St. Cloing Page, at 1306 N, Lincoln St. would save between $91,000 and $110,000. Closing Custis at 712 S. 23rd St. would save between $78,000 and %95,000. All savings would be reduced somewhat due to increased costs from busing students to other schools as a result of the closings.
The decline in Arlington's student population another major factor in considering school closings, has left many Arlington schools operating under capacity, Cuban said. Student enrollment has dropped from 26,160 to 19,210 in the past decade. The elementary schools selected for consideration for closing, excluding Ft. Meyer, were chosen largely on the basis of underenrollment.
Minumum enrollment for a county elementary school is considered 234 students attending grades one through six. Fairlington has 176 students, Curtis 206 and Page 219 in these grade levels.
Ft. Meyer had been selected because of its unique status as an Arlington County school. The Ft. Meyer school building is owned by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Arlington uses the building at no cost except maintenance and personnel. Cuban said Ft. Meyer had been selected not only for savings involved in closing it, but also because "HEW had hinted it may want to terminate its lease with the school system."
Chief Margarito Ochus, president of the Ft. Meyer Parent-Teacher Organization whose representatives last week opposed the school board selecting Ft. Meyer for a closing study, said present Ft. Meyer base officials support continued use of the Ft. Meyer building as a school.
Half of Ft. Meyer's student population is non-military and bused to the school, and Arlington schools spokesman said. About half its student population is white, 19 per cent is Asian, 16 per cent is black and 6 per cent is Spanish speaking. Ethnic diversity is one of some 10 criteria the school board has established to follow in determining which elementary schools to close. The board will attempt to retain similar paterns of ethnic breakdown when students are relocated.
Farlington's students come from an area where new condominiums are attracting young professionals but few young families. The school population is 56 per cent white, 21 per cent black, 7 per cent Asian and 6 per cent Spanish-speaking. Most of the black students are bused from Arlington's Green Valley area.
Page students are 72 per cent white, 16 per cent black, 7 per cent Asian and 5 per cent Spanish speaking. Page, located approximately in the center of the county, is surrounded by older, single-family homes - a possible area for the growth of families. Custis' racial breakdown is 77 per cent white, 14 per cent black, 6 per cent Spanish-speaking and 3 per cent Asian.
Besides looking at racial diversity, the 234 students per school quota and projected financial pressures, the Arlington County School Board also plans to consider the following items before deciding to close any county school:
Continuing existing educational programs.
Maintaining community programs in the schools.
The feasibility of moving students to adjacent schools as much as possible.
The possibility of minimizing numbers of students to be moved and the number of times they are moved (some Arlington students who may be affected by the school closings have been redistricted in the past).
Adequate space to accommodate relocated students and possible future changes in enrollment.
Possible effects of the proposed 1-66 corridor through Arlington. The highway, if built, would pass within a block of Page and Jackson elementary schools and Washington-Lee High School.