The Fairfax County school board last week adopted a plan to develop by the end of the school year a standard formula for closing county schools.
Although Fairfax schools student population is up countywide from 10 years ago, school closings are still expected to be necessary in the older sections of the county where school enrollments are declining.
The plan, which school spokesmen say is an attempt to involve the community in the school closing process, is in part a response to criticism leveled at the school board last year. Civic groups charged that not enough citizen opinion was sought in closing the Quander Road Elementary School.
The plan calls for the creation of task forces in each of the county's four school areas by early next week and for a countrywide task force to be established in February.
Each of the area task forces will be asked to study all available data bearing on school closing decisions and give their conclusions to the countrywide task for by February.
"We are hoping that these groups will be looking at the criteria we should use rather than a closing of specific schools," said Nathaneil J. Orleans of the school's planning services department.
TGe school system is fact a problem of changing demographisc in Fairfax County. While student enrollment has been declining in the older sections of the county, leaving schools only partially filled, there has been an increase in the number of students in the newly developed sections to the west causing overcrowding. The only way to utilize the vacant classroom spaces in the older schools would be to bus students long distances, an option school officials have chosen not to take.
Orleans explained that in administrative area 1, which is located in the southeastern section of the county south of Alexandria, student enrollment has declined from about 31,000 in 1970 to 28,000 last year.
Similar declines have occured in the area II district located east of Arlington County and Alexandria, he said. Meanwhile, student enrollment at schools in the western sections of the county are growing at approximately the same rate that enrollment is declining in the eastern portions, he said.
Total school enrollment so far this year, at 131,755, is down from last year's total of 134,842 (This year's official enrollment figure may increase between 200 to 300 by the end of the month, when the final reports are made.)
Each area task force will include an appointee named by each school board member representing a county magisterial district, an appointee by each at-large school board member and an appointee by the student representatives to the school board.
Also on each area task force will be an appointee of the Federation of Civic Associations in each county district and two representatives from each high school district.
The Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations has objected to what it called "in-group" control over the school closing issue and requested wider representation on the task forces.
THe school board has refused to change the task force membership formula, but accepted other recommendations made by the Mt. Vernon Coulcil. These included the stipulation that each task force elect its own chairman, that the task forces hold meetings open to the public and that they be charged "with the responsibility of seeking community input."
The task of the countywide task force will be review conclusions reached by the area groups and offer suggestions on policies and procedures for closing schools. The county Board of Supervisors will select one member of this group, each area task force will select three members, and the county Chamber of Commerce, the county Federation of Civic Associations, the county PTA Council, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Taxpayers Alliance and a still unselected senior citizens assoccitions each will select one representative.
There will also be representatives from the administrative areas superindenants' offices, the schools' department of planning services amd the county's office of comprehensive planning on both the era and countrywide task forces.
The plan also specifies the information that the area task forces will study initially. It includes school board and county board policies and regulations related to chosing, sharing or using-school for other than public education; student enrollment trends and projections for each school; cost and student data for each school; the impact of the number of students on what the instructional and county board program can offer, staffing and costs; school board plans for programs that may need school space, and criteria that have been used by Fairfax County schools and other jurisdictions to deal with declining enrollments.