When Fairfax County School Superindent L. Linton Deck proposed several weeks ago that eight elementary schools be closed, he told school board members the plan could save the system $1.3 million.
But for at least five board members, whose constituents face possible closing of neighborhood schools, the issue is more than a dollars and cents proposition. It could, according to some observers, cost board members the support of the supervisors who appointed them. And that, say the observers, could cost several school board members their jobs.
The school board is to make a decision May 22. Next week, the board will open the floor to public comments at two hearings scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. But already, because so many people have signed up to protest the closings (including four county supervisors), the board has added a third public hearing Thursday.
Critics of the plan argue that the economic benefits -- a savings of less than 1 percent of the total school budget -- are so small they do not offset problems that would be created for the communities affected. Opponents bitterly add that they have been doublecrossed by school administrators, who recommended closing eight schools after citizen advisory committees reluctantly proposed closing only three.
County supervisors -- and, in turn, their appointed school board members -- face a more fundmental problem: School closings make parents unhappy, and unhappy parents make unhappy constituents.
As parents apply their own brand of political pressure -- residents in one district already have threatened to defeat a bond issue for a new school -- some supervisors are using other forms of persuasion, by gently reminding school board members that it is the supervisors who will decide whether to reappoint them when their terms expire.
So far, one school board member and four supervisors have said they oppose at least some of the closings. Conceivably, say optimistic opponents of the closings, the school board vote could end in a 5-to-5 tie, with the five members whose districts are affected by the closings voting against the proposals. Any tie vote would kill the motion.
More pragmatic observers, however, doubt that the vote will be that close, although residents are lobbying had to make sure their schools are spared.
One of the most energetic opponents of the closings is Supervisor Joseph Alexander, a Democrat from Lee District where one school -- Wilton Woods -- had been proposed for closing.
Alexander and Lee District school board member, Anthony T. Lane, have taken the lead in trying to persuade other school board members that Wilton Woods be kept open.
Alexander appointed Lane to the school board in 1972, and Lane strongly supports Alexander's position.
Like Alexander, Lane contends that the Lee District is growing, and more school-age children will be filtering into the district in coming years. Given that growth, Alexander and Lane say, it just doesn't make sense to close schools that may be needed in future.
If Alexander and Lane have forged a strong partnership, Mason District Supervisor Thomas Davis and the district's school board member, J. Roger Teller, have made, at best, an uneasy alliance.
In Mason District, one school -- Masonville -- is on the list of proposed closings. Davis already has voiced strong opposition to the plan and makes no bones about his differences with Teller.
"On this issue we don't see eye to eye," Davis says, "but I'm working on him.
"I have never said I wouldn't reappoint him if he voted to close some schools, but I will say this -- if a large part of the community is unhappy, I can't reappoint him."
To underscore his stand, Davis has written a letter of support to citizens opposed to school closings and is one of the four supervisors who has signed up to testify at the school board hearings.
Davis, a conservative, admits that part of the problem is that Teller was appointed by a liberal Democrat. Teller, who has been on the school board three years and whose second term does not expire until next spring, was appointed by former supervisor Alan D. Magazine. "I wish I could have my own people in all those positions," Davis says.
Teller says he has not taken a strong position for or against school closings in his district, but is meeting with citizens nightly to make a decision. Teller points out that his own children were involved in the closing of Willston Elementary School several years ago, so that while he can empathize with parents, he knows that children do survive school closings.
As to his relationship with Daivs, Teller says simply: "I'm looking to do my job and he's looking to do his job."
Supervisor Audrey Moore (D-Annandale) also opposes the closings, particularly the two schools in her district, Annandale Terrace and Edsall Park.
"Closing schools is like administering a dose of castor oil," said Moore when Deck's proposal was first presented. "But I ask you to examine the question: Is it really necessary to close any schools at all?"
But like Davis, she disagrees with her district's school board member, Robert Smith.
"Naturally, I've lobbied him, just like everybody else," says Moore, who added this is the first major disagreement she and Smith have had.
Moore says she is frustrated because constituents will blame her, as well as Smith, for any school closings.
"I wish we had an elected school board, I really do," Moore says wistfully.
Smith, while noting his disagreement with Moore, says she has not tried to control his vote.
"Audrey has been a delight to work with," he said. "In no way is she applying political pressure and I commend her for that."
But Smith adds: "She certainly has desires which I'm well aware of."
Although Supervisor Sandra Duckworth (D-Mount Vernon) says she is being persuaded by constituents arguments that schools should be kept open in her district, her major concern is the closings study that resulted in Deck's proposal. Duckworth calls the study a "whitewash."
"I'm concerned about the credibility of the school board," she says. "Parents believe they have been led down the garden path on this closing study . . . and that the school staff had their minds made up before the study was conducted.
"It does appear that that is what happened."
The two schools in Mount Vernon that have been proposed for closing are Hollin Hills and Hollin Hall.
Duckworth plans to meet with citizens this week and to testify at the public hearings next week.
Regardless of what Duckworth finally decides, she admits she will urge Ruth Dell, the school board member from Mount Vernon, to support her views when it comes to a final vote.
"Oh yes," said Duckworth, "she and I will be meeting later this week after we have both met with citizen groups."
In the Providence District, two schools have been proposed for closing, Walnut Hill and Devonshire. The supervisor there, James M. Scott, a Democrat, says he has decided what to do.
"It does offer some great opportunities for political grandstanding by supervisors," says Scott. "It's a very difficult problem, a very emotional problem. But there doesn't seem to be much disagreement that some schools need to be closed."
Scott says he has applied no pressure on board member Ann Kahn.
Kahn said Scott has not tried to influence her either way on the issue. "But that does not mean he is not interested," she said this week. "He has been asking me for information all along, (but) he recognizes the decision has to be made by the school board."
The depth of emotion the school closing issue has generated is being felt even by school board members who represent districts where no schools will be affected.
Toni Carney, of Springfield District, said she is feeling the pressures. She has been receiving about 20 or 30 letters a day -- all urging her to vote against school closings, and many threatening to block a bond referendum that would benefit her district next year.
"(The letters) are from people in other districts who realize it will take six board votes to defeat a school closing," Carney says.
"I don't feel anyone has a gun to my head. But maybe I should look around."