The Arlington County School Board, working to pare nearly $1.9 million from the upcoming school budget, appears to be headed toward an acrimonious split over where those cuts should be made.
Already, three school board members -- Evelyn Reid Syphax, Ann C. Broder and Torril B. Floyd -- have raised strong objections to tentative proposals presented last week by board member Claude M. Hilton that would have cut about $1.3 million from the budget. As directed by the County Board, which will limit its contribution to schools to $45 million, the school board must trim $1.1 million from instructional programs, $137,000 from administrative costs and $17,249 from student transportation funds.
Two Hilton proposals -- one to eliminate an in-school suspension program and another to cut the $91,000 earmarked for the schools' human relations program -- brought particular criticism from the three members. Both programs, but more especially the human relations project, have received strong support from minority groups in the county.
"I worry a little bit that this list is concentrated somewhat by accident on a particular group of students," said Broder in objecting to the proposals. "The suspension program and some of the other (human relations) programs all tend to deal with students with a particular set of problems."
Evelyn Reid Syphax, the only black board member, was more blunt: "To elimiante the human relations program would cause a chaotic situation. It's been our guiding light . . . And the in-school suspension program has been most helpful. It's kept kids off the street and out of trouble."
Last week, after the school board meeting at which Hilton presented his proposals, Syphax said she would fight "with everything in me" to preserve both programs.
Floyd also joined her colleagues in criticizing the proposed cutbacks.
"I think it would be a real blow to the minority population in particular," said Floyd, adding that handicapped students also benefit from the human relations program."As far as I'm concerned, they are extremely important programs."
Citing other proposed cuts such as in the gifted-talented and writing skills programs, Floyd added, "This is a sign of a very conservative philosophy that all that's important is just the basics. . . . They tend to think of everything else as frills."
Hilton earlier this week again defended teh proposals, saying his purpose was to "consolidate and reorganize the staff without having to go into the classroom and cut teachers, textbooks and supplies." He added that some of his proposed cuts could probably he absorbed elsewhere.
If Hilton's proposals are adopted, they also would mean the elimination of 12 teaching positions, 20 lunchroom attendants and 55 library and classroom aides. In addition an anti-smoking program and the position of a job place coordinator would be eliminated, library funds would be reduced by $14,336 at the elementary level and $18,945 in secondary schools.
Following a report by acting superintendent J. Boyd Webb on the impact of the proposed cuts, the board is to review the budget again at its meeting next Thursday, and the four other board members say they expect to offer possible alternatives to the Hilton proposals.
Chairman O. U. Johansen, viewed as one of the more conservative members of the board, said he favors the human relations program although not at the current "superstructure." He added that it may be necessary to raise the teacher-student ratio in secondary schools to avoid some cuts.
Still, it now appears that any budget plan must win the approval of the Syphax-Broder-Floyd alliance.
That alliance may come as a surprise to some board observers, who may have expected Syphax, as a Republican-appointed member, to join her Republican colleagues Hilton and Johansen in budget votes.
In recent weeks, however, Syphax more often has sided with the two Democrats on the board when it has come to budget votes.
"I don't want to think of it in terms of party line," Syphax said in explaining her emergence as the swing vote for more liberal members of the board. "I want to think of it in terms of voting my convictions."
So far, the only budget cut agreed to by the board has been teacher salaries. Originally proposed as a 10 percent increase in salaries and benefits, the board at its meeting last week approved a 7 percent salary hike for teachers.
Some of Hilton's proposals have been perceived as being a slap in the face to former Superintendent Larry Cuban and the more liberal-leaning school boards he served. Besides the human relations and in-school suspension program, for instance, one proposal called for eliminating the position of assistant to the superintendent, a job created by Cuban. Another would eliminate a volunteer program in which more than 1,000 adults contribute time and skills to school programs while still other proposals would eliminate a visiting-artist program and a program to improve thinking skills.
Hilton denied there was any retribution involved in his cut list and emphasized that the budget has to be cut somewhere.
"This leaves the basic money in the classroom where the teaching has to be done," he said. "It also decreases the pupil-teacher ratio in elementary schools and provides more money for supplies and textbooks than before."
A major problem facing the three board members opposing the Hilton proposals is time. On July 1, Broder's term expires and she will be replaced by Simon J. (Sim) Pace, a back-bo-basics Republican.
Unless the board can come to some agreement before then, the fragile and unusual Syphax-Broder-Floyd troika may have won some skirmishes, but lost the war.