Parent-teacher organizations at Page and Fairlington elementary schools in Arlington County are preparing themselves for a battle to save their schools from possible closing.
The two elementary schools, both more than 20 years old, were selected by the county school board last week as candidates for possible closing next September. A public hearing on the closing issue will be held next Thursday.
The Page Parent-Teacher Association bases its argument to keep the school open on the changing nature of Arlington County. Page, at 1501 N. Lincoln St., approximately in the center of the county, is bordered to the north by the I-66 right of way corridor, where the proposed highway would pass within a block of the school if built. Metro stations are proposed to the south of the school: the Clarendon station near the intrsection of Highland Street and Wilson Boulevard and the Ballston station near the intersection of N. Quincy Street and Fairfax Drive.
"It is an extremely pivotal time for the school board to be talking about closing a school in this area," said Page PTA vice president Neil Churchill. "Although high rise development is slated in the immediate vicinity around the metro stations, the communities around here are fighting very hard to keep a residential character for this older section of Arlington."
Churchill said the Page area communities, which include Lyon Village, Cherrydale and part of the Ballston and Clarendon areas, "fear being isolated from the rest of the county by a criss-crossing of super highways and towering commerical growth.
The Page school district, whose northern boundary lies between Lee Highway and the I-66 right of way, ia also bordered by N. Glebe Road to the West and Wilson Boulevard, Pollard Street and Fairfax Drive to the south and N. Fillmore Street to the east. The area contains many older single family homes that Churchill claims may attract younger families as older residents sell and retire elsewhere.
"Some families are willing to pay $70,000 to $80,000 for these homes to be close to the city and have nearby community resources, like schools," he said. "When you take the school away, you lessen the attractiveness of the area for people to settle."
He added that Page communities "look at Crystal City and Rosslyn with a fear that the same will happen to their areas. Take a school out, and at this point in time, you're telling the area it will deteriorate."
Churchill also claims "it is unfair for the school board to consider closing one of the few traditional closed class-room type of elementary schools in the country while assurances are given to the alternative schools that they will stay open."
Page is one of a handful of Arlington's 26 elementary schools that has alasses confined within four walls and a setup where the teacher faces the class as a whole.
Page also has the county's only hearing center for elementary school children. The center would be moved to another school if Page is closed, but Churchill says the move would be "highly disruptive" for students and teachers who have been accustomed to working with the program that has been at Page 15 years.
The school board is considering closing Page due to its underenrollment in an effort to reduce operating costs in the school system. Page has 219 students in grade levels one through six, which falls below the school board quota of 234 for these grade levels. Pupils in these grades are expected to decrease to 208 in September. Between $90,000 and $111,000 is expected to be saved by closing Page. If the school is closed, students would be sent to nearby Woodmont, Glebe and Jackson elementary schools.
"The school board says it is going to save money by closing the school Churchill continued. "But they should present more specific fugures indicating how much will be spent on busing those children to other schools before they start adding up savings."
School Supt. Larry Cuban said transportation costs will be available before the board decides on closing any school.
The area surrounding Fairlington Elementary School at 3308 South Stafford Street, in contrast to the Page area, is solidly residential. The Fairlington school distict is bordered by I-95 to the north and the Arlington County-City of Alexandria line to the south.
The Fairlington Parent-Teacher Association recently presented a survey to the school board showing that school age children in three divisions of the South Fairlington condominium area - Fairlington Meadows, Fairlington Green and Fairlington Commons - had increased from 160 children under 12 two years ago to 200 children in December.
"It's just a question now if the school board will be patient with us until Fairlington builds its school population up to acceptable levels," said Fairlington PTA vice president John Zottoli.
Fairlington, also being considered for closing due to underenrollment, has 168 pupils in grades one through six, 66 under the school board's quota of 234. However, school enrollment is expected to increase by 22 pupils in these levels by September.
If the school is closed, Fairlington pupils would be sent to nearby Abingdon Elementary School.
Abingdon now has 408 pupils, but school staff reports project a decrease to 276 pupils in September. Abingdon serves the Fairlington North condominium community of about 1,700 older apartments and reconverted townhouses, many of which have not been sold or rented. Many are designed to house families, since they contain three bedrooms and basement recreation rooms. About 800 units in Fairlington north are still not occupied, said a spokesman for Fairlington.
"Families who buy might be more attracted to homes available further out in the suburbs," Zottoli added. "But three's evidence that families who rent, particularly families, would be more attracted to Fairlington, being closer to the city."
These arguments, among others, will be presented to the school board as it nears its Feb. 3 decision on whether to close an elementary school.