The coming year may bring a sense of deja vu to the Arlington School Board, predicts its new chairman, Claude M. Hilton.
"The things coming up are things we've been through in the past year, to a certain extent," said Hilton. "We'll still have financial problems to deal with and reorganization within the school structure in terms of personnel. We haven't done enough in the past and we're going to have to do a better job."
A former Arlington commonwealth's attorney and a former member of the county planning commission, Hilton hopes to strengthen the working relationship between the school board and the Arlington County Board, which appoints school board membrs and allocates a major portion of the school budget.
Hilton, a Republican now in private legal practice, is in the second year of his first four-year term on the school board. As chairman, the 40-year-old Hilton will help guide the work of three other Republicans and one Democrat on the board. But, as the past year showed, a GOP majority is no guarantee that school board votes will reflect the will of the Republican-controlled county board.
"I'm sure this board isn't going to speak with one voice," he laughed, thinking of the many school board votes -- particularly crucial budget votes -- last year that resulted from unusual alliances involving the two Democrats then on the board and Repubicans O. U. Johansen, the immediate past chairman, or Evelyn Reid Syphax, the new vice chairman.
"I would hope our relationship (with the county board) would be a good one," he said. "Sometimes it's a matter of how you deal with them and how you present things."
During the many budget sessions last spring, Hilton, a fiscal conservative, was especially critical of colleagues' proposals to exceed county board guidelines for school spending. At one point, Hilton produced his own list of potential cuts, which he said was aimed primarily at decreasing the pupil-teacher ratio in grade schools. But the list produced an uproar from parts of the community whose favorite programs, would have been reduced substantially or eliminated.
Eventually a $58.2 million budget, based largely on recommended cuts from Johansen, was adopted representing an 11 percent increase over this year. But Hilton foresees stormier times ahead as the board wrestles with decreasing enrollments, increasing costs and fewer federal funds.
The school board, he told his colleagues after being elected chairman last week, "may largely be responsible for managing our own fiscal destiny and this will require a closer monitoring of the budget than even before. I see this assumption of responsibility . . . as one positive step in establishing good working relationships with the county board."
Hilton added that one of his priorities will be establishing a good relationship with the new superintendent, Charles E. Nunley, who assumed his duties last Wednesday.
Hilton, whose two children attend Arlington public schools, said his other goals for the coming year include:
Expansion of the "academic school concept" as a reflection of the back-to-basics philosophy. The success of the traditional Page School "is an indication that we must face up to finding ways of making this concept available to all parents who desire it for their children. Parents have a right to question why the 'open classroom' concept was implemented all across Arlington in just a few short years and yet the board has been very slow in spreading the academic school concept."
Reorganization of the school system's central administration and program toward reorganizing secondary schools in light of dwindling enrollments and increasing costs.
Seeking and retaining high-quality staff. "As the salaries of some of our employes exceed $25,000, $35,000 and $50,000, our taxpayers are asking more and more frequently, 'Are you sure we're getting our money's worth?' . . . We must recognize that there are some (teachers) who are not meeting the standards of Arlington parents." Hilton said he believes a better and continuing program for teacher and staff evaluation is needed.
More emphasis on the needs of "average" students. "We are a diverse community and this places special burdens on us. About 18 percent of our students come from homes where English is not the primary language. Nearly 11 percent of our students are classified as 'special education' students . . . There are those who feel we have neglected the 'average' student in our efforts to provide for the 'atypical." . . . (And while we must meet the needs of children with problems, we must not ignore the fact that our school system is essentially an academic system preparing 80 percent of our students to go to higher education."