Members of the Zappone household are subsisting on chop suey and bamboo shoots. The laundry's piling up, and the phone rings so often that the bell on the kitchen extension has been switched off.
When Eleanor D. Zappone was elected to the Montgomery County School Board last fall, her only previous experience with school closings had been a battle to save schools in the New Hampshire area near her home in Silver Spring.
"Now I'm on the receiving end," says the mother of three.
For the last month, as one of seven board members trying to readjust the county's massive public school system to the lowest enrollment since 1964, Zappone's daily routine has been almost totally taken over by her ostensibly part-time $7,200-a-year job.
Gone are the once-a-week bridge dates and days of volunteer work. Summer was the last time she read a novel. Life is now largely given over to speeches and tours around county schools. Zappone has opened scores of letters from strangers and sat patiently listening on her muted kitchen phone while overwrought parents implore her not to close their community's school.
Zappone's new life style means her 11th grade daughter Pam is often ordering dinner from the China House, a nearby carryout restaurant, because no one has been to the supermarket. And Pam does the laundry, now, too. Four times one day last week her mother started downstairs with a hamper only to be yanked back by the phone.
Husband Ricardo Zappone feels like he is subsidizing Montgomery County, his wife works so much. "If she were getting paid full time she'd be making a fortune," he says. "I'm looking forward to getting reacquainted with her over Thanksgiving."
Zappone herself acknowledges the tremendous pressure bearing down on individual members as the board draws closer to its decision on school closures in December. "It's a rough process," she said, "the pressure's on everybody. It's very uncomfortable."
The pressure was most discomfiting and the process roughest last week when 300 placard-toting supporters of Sligo Junior High School packed an auditorium in the school administration building for Sligo's hearing before the board.
A few board members smiled nervously as the hearing was interrupted by the commotion of Sligo supporters, wearing T-shirts and buttons and hats built out of bumper stickers, filing into the auditorium off their rented buses. For the supporters of Sligo, who are trying to stave off the third threat of closure in four years, the rally was the culmination of more than four weeks of grass-roots mobilizing. Their goal is to persuade the board to close Eastern Junior High School instead of their 20-year-old school tucked among the oak trees of Dennis Avenue in Silver Spring. Their best tactic, they thought, was a show of force at the school board session.
"The board is an elected body," said Nancy Aronson, chairman of the PTA's Save Sligo subcommittee. "We realized the importance of presenting a large number of voters to the board.
For Zappone the occasion was a chance to consider what she calls the "human element' that does not turn up in the administration statistics. But from her point of view, the intense concern of the Sligo community for the preservation of its school simply amounted to a two-pound folder in a 30-pound file of letters, testimonies and sundry documents from 11 other schools in the same predicament.
Many of the points made by Sligo's 13 witnesses were punctuated with wild cheers, foot stamping and applause. "We were not upset by [the superintendent's] recommendations to close Sligo until we saw that his reasons were based on garbage," cried Dr. Tommy Broadwater as placards bobbed with the fervor of a national convention.
To Zappone, looking for a positive aspect to the occasionally angry tenor of the hearing, the turnout was pleasing because it showed that people cared about their school. But whatever advantage, if any, Sligo gained last week would most likely be neutralized when supporters from Eastern Junior High are heard from, she said.
"It would be easier to make dispassionate decisions if nobody cared," Zappone said. "But it's like football. You have to think in terms that the other team has yet to have their turn."
She concedes that the choice between Sligo and Eastern is going to be "one tough decision," the hardest she will have to make. And it was clear that the arguments in behalf of Sligo were more emotional than those of two elementary school groups threatened with closure.
'What keeps going through my mind," Zappone said at her home last week, "is that whichever way we go some group is going to be unhappy.'
The phone rang in another part of the house. "It's for you, mom," Pam Zappone said. After listening for several minutes her mother said "I'm sure I'll be hearing more from the Eastern community in the next few weeks."