Angry Fairfax County parents groaned and hissed this week while school officials anguished over "relocatables," "parkos" and the definition of a "bus-mile."
For those unfamiliar with schoolspeak: Relocatables are the same as "tempos" (prefabricated outbuildings) but differ greatly from "parkos" (trailers). And a bus-mile -- well, no one seemed to know exactly what a bus-mile was.
A crowd estimated at nearly 600 filled almost every inch of the Robinson High School cafeteria Monday night to hear a discussion on school construction plans for the next five years.
For most of the school patrons, the night stretched into more than four hours of school jargon at its unintelligible best.
To further confuse the issue, the Capital Improvements Plan, the topic for the evening, covers a five-year span and is reworked every year.
Cardboard boxes at the front of the cafeteria, filled with copies of the proposed plan, might have included a dictionary to help the public understand the school staff's version of jabberwocky.
The crowd fidgeted while the "calculated capacity" of "facility cores" and the "movement to reassignment sections" of "boundary areas" were bandied about. t
Parents may have been surprised to hear that some schools are "addable" while others are "not addable." But they were probably reassured to learn that "bridging is possible between groups."
Residents of the "Peninsula of Hunt Valley" -- if they were present -- learned that the "bottom line" is the "costing out."
As the hours ticked by and parents were given an opportunity to ask questions, it became clear they weren't amused, and wanted answers -- in English. When a school board member asked Nathaniel Orleans, assistant superintendent for planning services, about the cost of operating school buses, Orleans replied: "It depends on how you define a mile, now there are bus-miles. . . ."
The assembled crowd began to jeer.
School officials said they have a plan to house the growing student population in the western section of the county, while keeping new construction to a minimum.
To accomplish this, the staff has decided to use boundary changes and temporary structures rather than build many new schools.
Under the plan, Fairfax County will build two new schools for handicapped, one new elementary school, one 10-room "relocatable" and two 10-room additions during the next five years.
This restrained approach has caused an outcry from citizens in the Pohick area who say they want schools "where the children are."
Parents argue that rapidly rising fuel prices make new school construction more economical than busing students out of their neighborhoods. They say they are cynical about staff recommendations, pointing to additions planned for Fox Mill and White Oaks Elementary schools (Fox Mill opened last month and White Oaks opens next week), as evidence of poor planning by the school staff.
School board member Toni Carney summed up the mood at Monday's meeting when she asked: "May I try to nail this jello to the wall?"
The public will have another opportunity to discuss the future of the county schools on Jan. 29 at Falls Church High School.