Arlington County Public Schools Superintendent Larry Cuban has recommended that three elementary schools be closed due to declining enrollments. A decision is expected Dec. 7.
Custis and Farlington elementary schools, both in South Arlington, should be closed at the end of this school year, Cuban said at a school board meeting last week. He suggested that Fort Myer Elememtary School be closed at the end of 1979-1980 school year.
"None of the three schools under consideration is a new candidate," Cuban said. "Both Custis and Farlington were reviewed by both (the school board) and community intensively in 1975 and 1976. They were not reviewed in 1977 because the board decision the previous year was to give each school time to see if enrollment would increase, remain the same or continue in the same pattern of decline."
At a public hearing Monday night, representatives of the Fairlington community pointed out that the deed to the school requires that it always be used as some sort of public facility, such as a school or park. Under those same provisions, the residents said, the land cannot be vacant or the county could lose possession of the land.
Board members said they plan to consider alternative uses for the school when the board meets in a work session next week.
Members of the Long Branch PTA supported Cuban's recommendations for Fort Myer, as did Nancy Whitney, a teacher at Long Branch, who said she spoke in behalf of the staff and the principal.
Margaret Gaffen, a Custis PTA member, protested the proposal for that school. "As taxpayers, we think it's an outrage," she said, that the board would close a school after spending $200,000 in 1976 for remodeling. "The school board should have planned more carefully."
About 35 persons attended the hearing.Of those, 10 persons testified.
Since 1973, enrollment in county schools has declined 20 percent. When an elementary school's enrollment drops below 230 students, the school board automatically considers it for closing. Current enrollment is 163 at Custis and 75 at Fairlington.
Cuban said he recommended closing the schools because their enrollment has not increased and is not expected to increase.
Arlington County leases the Fort Myer building from the federal government. The current lease expires June 30, 1979. Cuban recommended that the school be closed because there is no lease available that would allow the school system to option of abandoning the building if the enrollment falls below a level of one and a half classes per grade.
Army Col. V.M. Robertson Jr. said in a letter to Cuban last week that the school system could lease the building an additional year if it was necessary "to achieve an orderly transition of the Fort Myer students into other county schools."
This would depend, Robertson said, on "urgency of need . . . negotiation of a lease with no cost or liability to the Army for repair or maintenance of the building" and "an understanding that there would be no extension beyond 30 June 1980."
Board member Torill B. Floyd questioned the decisions to retain Fort Myer for an additional year. There are "not just educational considerations," she said. The economic factors of keeping the school open an additional year must be considered. "I'm not convinced we need that year," she said.
Cuban, in a short speech that drew applause from those attending the school board meeting, said he opted for the extension so that there could be an "orderly, sequential, smooth transition" of the 289 Fort Myer students to their new schools.
An "intensive orientation period" is needed for "familiarizing and orienting parents and students" to the three new schools where Fort Myer students will be transfered. Those schools, Key, Long Branch and Henry, are open-classroom institutions. Fort Myer is not.
When "a shift that is traumatic in the lives of four schools" is made, Cuban said, the move must be "as smooth as possible. It is educationally sound to have that time," Cuban said. "A move that can be disruptive" must be "balanced with economic factors."
According to the plan outlined by Cuban, Custis students will be tranferred to Oakridge Elementary School. 'This will result in a projected enrollment of 609 students at Oakridge next year, which is within the school accommodation level of 750.
Accommodation level is the number of students that a school can comfortably hold while still providing adequate space for music, art, athletic and other programs.
Farlington students will be transferred to Abingdon, which will bring that school's enrollment to a projected 567 for the 1979-1989 school year, Abingdon's accommodation level of 575.
The addition of Fort Myer student to Long Branch, Key and Henry which keep those schools well within their accommodation levels, according to projections.