Should the city have a separate school system?
95 (32%) Yes
163 (55%) No
38 (13%) Don't know/not sure
Should there have been a referedum on separate schools?
231 (76%) Yes
58 (19%) No
16 (5%) Don't know/not sure
Agree with Council vote to withdraw from Metro?
149 (50%) Yes
104 (35%) No
47 (16%) Don't know/not sure
Agree with veto of area gasoline tax?
154 (51%) Yes
105 (35%) No
44 (14%) Don't know/not sure
Should county offices he moved out of the city?
79 (27%) Yes
119 (41%) No
99 (32%) Don't know/not sure
Should city have withdraw from regional park authority and other regional groups?
36 (12%) Yes
216 (71%) No
50 (16%) Don't know/not sure
The city citizens consulted or bypassed on public issues?
128 (42%) Bypassed
119 (39%) Consulted
55 (18%) Don't know/not sure
The feisty little city of Fairfax, other some 17 years of debate, is in the process of severing one of its last remaining links with surrounding Fairfax County - schools.
But while other recent separatist moves of city officials generally are approved by the city's 21,000 residents, a majority appears strongly opposed to breaking away from the county school system. The issue has polarized the coming May 2 election for mayor and city council.
A Washington Post poll of city residents found that a clear majority (55 percent) do not want the city to separate from county schools and set up a separate school system for the city's 4,500 pupils. Only about one-third of the 306 households polled (32 percent) said they favored an independent city school system. The rest said they were not sure or had not followed the issue closely enough to form an opinion.
An even larger majority of residents (76 percent) said there should have been a referendum on the school issue, something the present city council has declined to hold despite a petition requesting one from 1,400 residents last fall. Another petition signed by 4,000 residents two months ago asked the city council to reopen negotiations with the county on schools.The only time a referendum on establishing separate school system has been held, in 1966, it was soundly defeated by voters.
The present council has begun searching for a full-time superintendent to head a city school system, which would become independent in July 1979 - unless a new city council and mayor decide to stay with county schools. Of the more than 20 candidates for the job, the 10 finalists are being interviewed this month.
While the Post poll found the present council majority and the mayor have little public support on the school issue, the poll did find that a majority of city residents approve council decisions on other controversial questions, such as establishing a separate city fire and rescue squad, vetoing a gasoline tax for Northern Virginia (which had to be approved by all jurisdictions) and withdrawing from the Metrobus system.
In general, the Post poll found that people in Fairfax City are closely divided on the question of whether the city council by-passes citizens and tries to keep them out of the decision-making process. Some 42 percent said they felt the city kept them informed on issues and consulted them and the rest offered no opinion.
"We've been by-passed from the very beginning, since we woke up one morning in 1961 to find we had become a city, without any one consulting us or any vote or referendum being taken among residents," said one long-time Fairfax resident when answering a Post interviewer's questions.
Others felt strongly that the council was making the right decisions, that public hearings are held on important issues and that the city keeps its residents informed. "We have one of the best city newsletters of any city around. Show me one that's better!" one person told an interviewer. May 2 Election
Although the city has a profusion of controversial issues, the May 2 election appears to be pivoting on the school issue, as have several previous city elections. A separate city school system is favored by two of the three candidates for mayor - incumbent Mayor Nathaniel Young and City Councilman Walter L. Stephens Jr. - half of the 16 council candidates running for the six city council seats. City councilman Frederick W. Silverthorne, the third candidate for mayor, favors staying with the county school system.
An independent school system is not the only city controversy, but is one of the most divisive and one of the oldest, surfacing almost the day the city of Fairfax was created in 1961.
After the then-twon of Fairfax annexed five square miles of prime county land and declared itself an independent city, the new city fathers contracted with the county to operate the nine schools within the new city limits - two have since been closed - plus a fire department and other smaller services like a branch library.
The city gave the county notice three years ago that it was going to set up its own fire and rescue squad, which goes into operation next month. Half of the residents polled by the Post two weeks ago said they approved of a separate fire department, and less than one-third said they opposed it. The rest were undecided. Transportation
City residents similarly approved other city council actions, including a number that have antagonized neighboring jurisdictions.
The city vetoed an area-wide gasoline tax which would have helped pay escalating Metro costs, costs now paid primarily by property taxes in all Northern Virginia jurisdictions. The Post poll found 51 percent of city residents approve of that veto, 35 percent oppose it and the rest are undecided.
The city also won a court suit against neighboring jurisdictions to get back its near $2 million contribution to its Metro after a subway line to Vienna, going past Fairfax, was tentatively deleted from Metro plans - although it still may be built. Metro has appealed the court decision.
Since then city decided also to stop supporting public mass transit, in order to save the city money, and has withdrawn from the Metro bus system. For Washington-bound commuters it set up a rush-hour charter bus system. Metro has not dropped service in the city, however, despite the city's refusal to contribute to the area bus system.
The Post poll found 50 percent of city residents approve of the city withdrawing from the Metrobus system, with 35 percent opposed to the action and the rest undecided.
The Post poll also asked residents whether they thought the city should withdraw from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority or other regional groups, since Fairfax City representatives on the park authority recently threatened to withhold the city's contribution if a proposed park or regional tennis complex, which they oppose, is built on the Alexandria-Fairfax County line. An overwhelming 71 percent of the city residents polled said they should not withdraw, 12 percent said they should and the rest were undecided.
Those polled also were asked to rate separately the job performance of the city council and city manager, George E. Hubler Jr. Some 21 percent of those polled felt they didn't know enough to rate the council, but the remainder gave the council an average rating of 5 on a scale of 0-10. That rating is exactly in the middle, neither favorable nor unfavorable. Almost half of those polled said they didn't know enough about the city manager, George E. Hubler Jr., to rate him, but the remainder said his job performance averaged a little under 6 on a 0-10 scale.
The Post poll also found a majority of city residents oppose the move of the county offices or courts out of the city, moves the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors presently is considering.
While city residents have no say in that decision, the poll found 41 percent oppose the relocation of county offices, 27 percent favor it and 32 percent were undecided. School Issue Is Money
The major issue that has divided city residents, schools has been around so long that many citizens have changed their minds at least once on the subject over the past decade, including three present members of the city council who once opposed and now favor an independent city school system, according to councilman Walter L. Stephens Jr. Stephens is one of the three and a candidate for mayor in the May 2 election.
"I have two daughters in county schools, never complained about the schools and had not been advocating" a separate city school system, Stephens said. But when the county cancelled the school contract with the city last December "and said they would then consider a new one, at that point I began to change my mind. I felt we couldn't live with ultimatums," Stephens said. The underlying school issue is money, he said, and whether citizens are willing to pay the $1-2 million more a year the county is now asking from the city.
Mayor Nathaniel T. Young, a former community college teacher here, says he too favors an independent city school system because the "mass production school system" in Fairfax County "isn't doing the job that should and could be done and we can do it better on a small scale. The smaller the system is the more responsive it will be."
Young is one of the signers of a "Common Sense" pamphlet distribute around the city, also signed by seven candidates for city council, which lists "Facts" in favor of a separate city school system.
Silverthorne, the third mayoral candidate, wants the city to stay in the county school system if the cost isn't prohibitive, and says he wants a city-wide referendum held on the issue. "Achievement tests show county kids are number one in the state and in the upper third nationally," he said, "and I think it's a mistake to leave a school system like that for an unknown system at an unknown cost." Referendum Controversial
Even the idea of a referendum has become controversial. Stephens voted against referendum proposals when they came before the city council, because he said he felt it would have provoked the county ". . . and we were trying to avoid a conflict."
Mayor Young said, "Last fall I joined with a group in favor of a referendum on this. They met at my house and we got a petition with 1,400 signatures. But the council ignored it. Stephens and Silverthorne sat mute on a motion to take it to referendum. It died for want of a second."
Thus Young was in favor of a referendum last fall, but now says he opposes one. Silverthorne, who now favors one, opposed it last fall "because I felt it unwise to have a referendum while we were still negotiating on a new school contract with the county." And Stephens has opposed a referendum but says the coming election will be one: "Citizens will have to determine at election time which way we go."