In preliminary reports to the Fairfax County School Board, four area task forces recommended last week that declining enrollment not be the sole criterion in determining school closings.
Among other factors the task force members want included when a school is being studied for closing are: the quality of education being offered there; any unusual qualities of the school; the number of students who walk to school; the costs of busing children to schools not in their neighborhoods, and long-range educational and planning goals for the couty.
Before a school closing study is initiated, members of the task forces suggested that enrollment should have dropped steadily for the last four years and that projections indicate no foreseeable change in that pattern.
The four groups varied on the specific number of students (from 300 to 400) and class sections per elementary grade (from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2) which would constitute under-enrollment in any particular school.
Among the task forces' other recommendations to the school board were: countywide school boundary studies; longer range planning; better demographic data; studying clusters of schools for closing purposes rather than individual schools, and the appointment of a community coordinator to assist citizens in getting information and setting up meetings during school closing studies.
After hearing the area reports, the board appointed a countywide task force to coordinate the recommendations and make a final report in April. The countywide task force will meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at Lake Braddock Secondary School, 9200 Burke Lake Rd., Burke.
The area task forces were appointed last Sept. 15, after a heated debate that began over a proposed school closing policy presented to the board several months before.
Although there are many rapidly developing areas of Fairfax County that have a shortage of schools, many of the older areas of the county are under-enrolled, and the overall student population in the county is dropping by more than 1,200 students per year.
A year ago, the school board's planning staff said that as many as 10 county schools could be considered for closing studies within the next five years. Consideration of any such studies have been halted until a final policy on closing is adopted by the board.
Superintendent S. John Davis recommended the task forces, including the countywide task force, in response to criticism last year charging that there was a lack of citizen input in the original closing policy proposal.
At the meeting last week, Davis said of the reports that it was obvious few members really want to close schools. "But," he said, "the concept on how to deal with declining enrollment is being developed by citizens. They are being developed by citizens. They are identifying procedures and giving us guidelines that they feel should be taken into consideration."
Nathaniel Orleans, assistant superintendent for planning services, said the community input is not going to make acceptance of a suggested school closing any easier for the particular community involved.
"What it is going to do," he said, "is give the school board a better foundation for their decisions. We want the task force members to tell us community values - what are important considerations to them."
Once the final countywide task force report is submitted, a public hearing on the recommendation will be held in May.
Each of the task forces had more than 20 members from each of the four county areas. Area I covered the Rte. 1 corridor and Mount Vernon area. Area II included the county's central part, near Falls Church. Area III was the northern and western part of the county, including McLean, Reston and Vienna. Area IV is the south and southwestern part of the county, including Pohick, Chantilly and Oakton.
The countywide task force will include three members from each of the four task forces and one member each from the Chamber of Commerce, the PTA Council, the Federation of Citizens Associations, the Fairfax County Taxpayer's Alliance, the League of Women's Voters, the Fairfax County Senior Citizen's Council and the NAACP.