The Fairfax County School Board has agreed to continue indefinitely an unusual arrangement that provides county education funds to two private schools for handicapped children that are owned by Supervisor Elaine McConnell.
The board's vote extends a one-year exception granted last July after weeks of political controversy that saw McConnell (R-Springfield) accuse Democrats of trying to oust her from the board.
The 8-to-1 vote took place in closed session March 28 and then was repeated in open session.
The vote will allow 22 children to continue at Accotink Academy, a private school in Fairfax for preschool and learning-disabled children, and one child to continue at River's Bend Farm, a residential facility for handicapped children near Luray, Va.
Both facilities are owned by McConnell and her husband.
Last year's vote prohibited the McConnells from accepting new students funded by the county, as does the current vote.
McConnell said yesterday that the controversy generated by the issue last year has died down.
She said the School Board's action closing her schools to new county enrollment has made many parents unhappy because it "leaves a lot of very, very sick children without any services."
Supporters of the arrangement said it would be unfair to disrupt the education of students already attending the two schools.
"We felt it would be inappropriate to move those children," School Board Chairman Mary E. Collier said.
The county estimates that the two schools will receive $381,000 for schooling, services and transportation for the children next year.
The county pays $187,000, with the remainder paid by the state.
The board's vote teeters precipitously between two official policies: the county's own policy of requiring direct payments to private schools for students who cannot be educated by the county and Virginia's conflict-of-interest law, which prohibits supervisors from holding contracts with school boards to which they appoint members.
Under an arrangement worked out last year by the county's chief prosecutor, Robert F. Horan, the county pays tuition money to parents, who then pay it to the schools, rather than the county paying the McConnells directly.
"We don't have other options," Collier said, "because it would cost far more for the county to set up its own classes for the children.
The superintendent's office estimates it would cost more than $427,000, even after state reimbursement.
The School Board member who voted against continuing the arrangement, Katherine Hanley, said she did so because "the policy that we have works well and I don't think we should make an exception."
Laura I. McDowall, another School Board member, said she abstained from the vote "based on my personal conviction as to the propriety of contracting with public officials."