The Arlington County School Board has approved a plan to spend nearly $1.9 million to renovate the 28-year-old science wing at Washington-Lee High School.
The board plans to seek a $1 million low-interest loan from the state Literary Fund, a revolving fund that dispenses revenues from fines, such as those paid for speeding tickets and for school contstruction projects around the state. The remaining $900,000 is to be sought from a variety of school and county sources.
The plan was approved 4-to-0, with board member Claude M. Hilton abstaining, at the school board meeting last week. Hilton said while he agreed that the dilapidated structure needed work, he opposed the "entire renovation of the wing when we have under consideration the entire reorganization of the high schools."
Board members have said that within the next few years, they expect to study the consolidation of Arlington's three high schools because of declining enrollment. In a meeting last month, however, the board opted to renovate the wing rather than make stop-gap repairs, noting that the Washington-Lee building probably would be used for other purposes even if it were closed as a high school. The original cost estimate on the renovation was $2.2 million, but that was trimmed after the board asked the school staff to come up with a less expensive plan.
In other action, the board authorized Superintendent Larry Cuban to impose a modified hiring freeze designed to save $100,000 by the end of the fiscal year. As proposed, new teachers would be hired at the first level on the relevant salary scale.
For instance, a teacher with a masters degree and 10 years' experience in another school system would be paid for the masters degree but not for the 10 years' experience. The superintendent is authorized to make exceptions. The filling of vacancies in support positions, such as custodian or secretary, would require school boad aproval.
The plan is part of a board effort to hold down the amount of additional money -- still undetermined -- it will have to request from the County Board in January. The board expects to need more money because enrollment this fall was greater than expected. The County Board had estimated this year's enrollment at 14.721 when it set this year's $40.5 million county contribution to the school budget. The official enrollment stands at 15,146.
A $200,000 contingency fund had been established in case of higher enrollment, but school officials say that will not cover the increased costs.
In recommending the modified hiring freeze, board Chairman O.U. Johansen said, "We've got to show the County Board we're making some efforts (to economize)."