The aroma of bacon and eggs was in the air this week when Fairfax County supervisors and school board members met at a breakfast session to discuss the future of the county school system.
The mood between the two groups was friendly -- only occassional bickering among the supervisors added any spice to the early-morning session, which was held at the Massey Building Monday.
Conversation centered on the dismal prospects for passage of a $29.6 million school bond refrendum being considered for next fall and the future of vacant school buildings in the county -- two issues which officials say are ultimately tied together.
The bond proposal currently calls for the construction of two new elemenary schools in the western part of the county, additions to four schools and renovations at nine others.
While no firm decisions were reached, the school board and supervisors agreed that one priority is what to do with several vacant buildings, especially the Willston Center -- formerly Willston Elementary School -- in the Seven Corners area. The building was vacated last summer when school staff offices were moved elsewhere, and the facility has since become a white elephant for the school system. Willston is considered a hot piece of real estate, but legal technicalities have prevented the county from putting the building on the auction block.
It appears that county officials have several options with the building. If legal requirements can be met, the building could be sold; a trade could be arranged with a developer who has offered to exchange a suitable school site in the fast-growing Springfield area for the Willston Center; the county could use the building as a refugge center for the Seven Corners area, which has a large refugee population.
School board members and supervisors generally agreed that public hearings on the issue should be scheduled as soon as possible. Similar hearings also may be scheduled for the Hollin Hall and Hollin Hills Elementary school buildings, which were among seven elementary schools closed last spring. s
The tone of the meeting emphasized the continual struggle to balance the needs of rapidly growing areas of the county with the financial probablems created in areas where school enrollment is declining.
Supervisors from the slow-growth districts -- Tom Davis (R-Mason), Audrey Moore (D-Annandale), Sandra Duckworth (D-Mount Vernon) and Joseph Alexander (D-Lee) -- warned the schol board that a decision about uses for the vacant school buildings would have to be made before their constituents in older sections of the county could be convinced to vote for new schools in the fast-growing western sections of the county.
"It's simple to our citizens. If you can't afford to keep the small schools open then we can't afford (the bond money) for new schools," Davis said as he outlined the concerns of citizens who live in eastern Fairfax County and fear that their schools are in constant jeopardy of being because of declining enrollments.
Several suprvisors noted that a bond referendum scheduled in the spring, instead of during next fall's general election, would have a better chance of approval. School staff members, however, indicated they preferred a fall referendum.
Supervisor Davis said a heavy voter turnout, as is expected in the general election next fall, generally hurts the chances for approval for bond referendums.
"This will be a gubernatorial election," Davis said. "There's going to be a heavy voter turnout. The voter turnout is going to be the same in our areas as it is in Reston and the Pohick. . . . This referendum is going to have to pass countywide."