The Fairfax County School Board took the first step toward calling for a school bond referendum next spring when it presented a list of proposed improvement projects to the county board of supervisors last week.
"In effect, we're seeking the go-ahead from the supervisors to hold this referendum," said Nathaniel J. Orleans, assistant superintendent of Fairfax schools. "Last year, the board criticized us for not informing them soon enough about the school bond referendum (held June 14). This year we're giving advance warning."
School board chairman Rodney Page told the supervisors the bond referendum is needed to fund construction and renovation plans in the schools' five-year improvement program. The board hopes to schedule the referendum for April.
The supervisors made no commitment to support an election but asked the school board to keep them informed on the planning process for the referendum.
The school board and the supervisors discussed no dollar figures, since the school board still has to decide whether to seek a bond issue to fund only one year of school improvements or a larger issue to fund improvements over several years.
"The school board shouldn't be in the business of annual bond referendums," Page said. "Planning is enhanced by looking for funds on a multi-year basis rather than coming back every year looking for referenda."
But there is the fear that county voters - particularly voters in older parts of the county where student enrollment is declining and threatening school closures - would not vote for a large bond issue if the funds were to be used for new schools in developing parts of the county.
"A large school bond referendum was defeated in 1972, and it's been coming back in bits and pieces ever since," Page said. "That's bad business; you can loss credibility coming back year after year asking for money, but there's just no viable alternative to funding the school needs other than bonds."
Projects that would be funded by bond funds and scheduled for fiscal year 1979 are two elementary schools for the Reston and Herndon areas, an elementary school for the Pohick area, two special education centers and renovation work at eight country schools.
During 1980, work is scheduled to begin on construction of four other schools and 10 renovation projects, if bond funding is available. In 1981, two more elementary schools are planned for construction as well as renovation at 15 schools. Renovation is planned at 22 more school in 1982, according to the five-year plan.
Supt. S. John Davis said the schools would be willing to "tighten their belts" and contribute $1 million from the operating budget to pay for the "most critical" capital improvement projects. The board of supervisors would be expected to fund the remainder.
In Page's opinion, the most critical project would be construction of an elementary school in the Pohich area, estimated to cost about $3 million. Page estimated it would cost about $16 million to build all four schools called for during 1979.
In other business at the joint meeting of the two boards, the board of supervisors passed a resolution supporting the school board's intent to continue providing English instruction for foreign students under English-as-a second-language (ESL) programs rather than bilingual programs.
The Department of Health, Education and Welfare informed the school board last week that Fairfax schools were not in full compliance with federal law because they were not providing English instruction for all foreign students in the students' native languages.
Davis maintains that HEW is misinterpreting the law, and that providing instruction for foreign students in their native tongues would create an unfair and unrealistic burden on Fairfax schools.