Alexandria School Board members taking a final look at the 1983 school budget have citizen comments from a standing-room-only public hearing to consider before they vote on the budget next Wednesday.
"I'm very pleased by the turnout at the hearing," said board chairman Shirley N. Tyler. "But the problem will be in trying to find ways to accommodate the concerns of the public and still stay within the city's 8 percent increase guideline." The superintendent's $45.9 million budget proposal suggests about $1.4 million in cuts.
More than 100 people jammed the usually sparsely filled meeting room last week to comment on proposed cuts in teaching staffs, drivers' education and school busing. And a large contingent of T.C. Williams students, clad in bright blue Marching Titans jackets, filled a section of the room to protest the slashing of their summer band camp from the budget.
"The comments were good," said board member C. Norman Draper. "But whether we can do anything about (them) remains to be seen."
A number of speakers voiced concern about the 5 percent projected enrollment drop on which school officials had based the budget, which calls for eliminating 27 teaching slots.
"Mount Vernon enrollment did not drop to the predicted level this year," said parent Margaret Rivers. "And with the uncertainties in the economy, it is hard to project attendance for next year."
"We presently have third and fifth grade classes of 28 and 30 students," already above the 24-student optimum class size set by the school system, said Jon Halsall, Mount Vernon PTA president. "We question the accuracy of enrollment projections that are developed on a system-wide basis. We urge the board to have the school administration explore alternatives such as developing projections on a school-by-school, class-by-class basis."
A particularly emotional issue at the meeting was the proposed elimination of high school football and band camps at a savings of $14,367.
"The camp is essential to the marching band's success," drum major Martha Droge told the board.
"You bought us uniforms and instruments," added Marching Titans member Janina Drof. "We now request the board make it possible for us to have a summer band camp. . . . In the past we have brought praise and pride to T.C. Williams and the city of Alexandria."
"My heart is with that band," superintendent Robert W. Peebles had said at an earlier meeting, commenting on recent cuts in public school financing. "It's a small amount of money, but if we don't let the public know that these cuts hurt and we can't absorb them year after year, then we are not doing our job."
Another proposal criticized at the hearing was increasing the walking distances for secondary students from one mile to 1 1/2 miles, for a savings of $203,490.
"I am nervous about my daughter walking and the responsibility of her tranportation being put on me," said Meredith Wade, who lives 1.4 miles from George Washington Junior High.
"My daughter likes school and studies very hard," said George Washington parent John Bohan. "If she had to walk 1 1/2 miles carrying a load of books weighing 15 to 20 pounds . . . It would work an undue hardship on my daughter and others."
Other topics discussed at the hearing included eliminating behind-the-wheel driver education in summer school to save $22,537 and eliminating a $21,000 guidance counselor.