The Alexandria School Board last week asked Superintendent John L. Bristol to prepare a report on a possible secondary school reorganization, which could result in the closing of some city-schools.
The study, triggered by declining enrollments and anticipated losses in basic state education funds, is expected to be controversial. A board decision in March to close Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson elementary schools was criticized by the city's black community, which claimed the move was racially discriminatory. In August the NAACP filed suit against the school system charging that it had systematically discriminated against blacks by closing schools in predominately black neighborhoods.
At the Saturday work session, Bristol told the board that the study was needed partially because of a $700,000 loss in state school aid, which the city will face in the next fiscal year. The loss will be caused by the declining number of students in the system and a change in the method of calculating state aid, he said. After next year, he told the board, the loss would grow to more than $1 million.
"I can see some serious fiscal problems this school system is facing," Bristol said. "I really feel it's also an educational Problem."
He said he would complete his report by January so that any changes the board might like to adopt could be incorporated into the school system budget for the following year.
Board member Lou B. Cook encouraged Bristol to look at alternatives to merely eliminating certain schools. One idea, she suggested Bristol consider, would close all the middle schools and put seventh graders into elementary schools and eighth graders into the schools which now serve ninth and 10th graders. That solution would avoid having to select particular schools for closing while leaving others open, she said.
Cook and fellow board members Claudia Waller and the Rev. John O. Peterson wanted the study of school facility use completed earlier than January. They said that by January candidates for city council elections would be gearing up their campaigns, and the school facility study could easily become subject to political pressures.
"I would prefer to make this decision . . . without a lot of political influence," Cook said. "It's bound to be a political football. I'd rather deal with it in a calm, rational atmosphere."
Waller asked the superintendent to prepare basic information about the need for reorganization soon so the board and interested citizens could offer their own proposals and comment on the report.
"The pressure's on us," Waller said. "The community's waiting to know what we're doing with our secondary schools. . . . It's not like the community hasn't thought of this. It's not like we haven't thought of this."
In other action the board set a tentative work schedule that includes a curriculum review in November; a review in February of instructional services offered by the school system, including the possibility of establishing an alternative secondary school for disruptive students and a "basic" elementary school, and a review of personnel policy and evaluation in April.