A story in last week's Weekly said Northern Virginia Community College will be forced to lay off 55 teachers and support staff because of declines in student enrollment. College officials said that they expect to reduce the staffing level by not filling current vacancies within departments. No teachers, and only a few, if any, clerical and support staff, are expected to be let go.

Northern Virginia Community College, the state's largest community college, will be forced to lay off 55 teachers and support staff by July 1 because of declines in student enrollment, the college announced this week.

The Virginia Community College System, which controls funding for Virginia's 23 community colleges, ordered the school to reduce its staffing level from 1,555 to 1,500 for the next academic year because of the recent drop in student enrollment. The state allocates money to the schools based on pupil enrollment.

James J. Hester, assistant vice chancellor for budget for the Virginia Community College System, said Virginia's "fiscal conservatism" saved its community colleges from a more dramatic cutback in funding.

"Virginia's colleges look good because the economy of the state is good," Hester said. "It's been bleak for other colleges around the country, such as those in Michigan, where they took a heavy unemployment load. Things could probably be fairly difficult for a lot of them."

College president Richard J. Ernst said his school's staff cutbacks were mild when compared with how other community college's fared across the United States.

"Enrollment drops are a national phenomenon and those colleges not in population growth areas will experience enrollment and funding declines for the next several years," Ernst said in a telephone interview. Ernst, reached at the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges convention in San Diego, said the future of community colleges is directly related to the economy of the areas they serve. "We did far better than some California and Florida community colleges who suffered greater staff reductions than us," he said. "Northern Virginia's enrollment is leveling out and I am quite confident about our future."

At least 13 of the 55 positions slated for elimination at Northern Virginia Community College will be full-time teaching slots, and three cuts will be at the administrative level. College spokesman James Bradley said the school will draw the rest of the reductions from various clerical, secretarial and maintenance jobs.

John Kennedy, director of college personnel, said the teaching cutbacks likely would come from current vacancies within a department, such as a staff member who has resigned or taken a leave of absence.

He said the layoffs probably would affect only those departments in which student enrollment already had declined, but added that it is too early to pinpoint which departments would be affected.

Northern Virginia Community College has 515 full-time faculty members and operates a total of five campuses in Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the city of Alexandria.

Kennedy said the school anticipated the reduction in force earlier when enrollment of full-time students dropped 8 percent last fall. He said the college tried to hold positions vacant after resignations to help soften the blow of the expected cutbacks.

"I don't want people to feel that their job is in jeopardy," said Kennedy. "The indications are that a particular department will lose a position that hasn't been filled."

Full-time teachers who retain their jobs for the coming fiscal year, which extends from July 1 through June 30, will get a 10 percent average salary increase. Part-time teachers will receive a 7 percent average salary increase, and support staff will get a 6 percent salary jump.

But, Kennedy said, the state's recently allocated $49.9 million budget for the Northern Virginia Community College system, a $1.5 million increase over last year's $48.4 million budget, does not adequately compensate for the teacher's new salary levels or surges in the cost of school operations.

"The $49.9 million does not cover the cost of people in a people-intensive industry," said Kennedy.

School officials said the faculty cutbacks would not hurt extracurricular activities or classroom performance. But officials said they were disappointed that the General Assembly failed to provide the college with additional funding to help with the Woodbridge campus' current expansion.