Two key legislators threw cold water yesterday on the possibility of major changes in the way Virginia provides state money to local school systems despite a legislative study commission recommendation that the state narrow a growing gap between its wealthy and poor school districts.
In a preliminary report issued last week, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission proposed seven options to reallocate millions of dollars in state money for school districts.
The commission's report did not endorse any one option, but tossed the issue into the laps of Gov. Gerald L. Baliles and the General Assembly, which convenes Jan. 13 to approve a two-year state budget.
The goal of reallocation would be to provide enough money to ensure that all school districts are financially capable of meeting the state's education standards.
The impact could be major for individual school districts. Fairfax County, for example, could gain as much as $89 million or lose as much as $22 million over two years under the various options. Commission officials made it clear, however, that their preference was to take more from the rich, such as the Northern Virginia and Tidewater areas, and give to the poor, such as the districts in rural Southwest Virginia.
Two key legislators -- House Appropriations Chairman Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax) and committee member Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) -- said yesterday that major changes in the allocations formulas are unlikely in the 1988 session and perhaps ever.
"We have too many votes up here and in other areas that would be adversely affected," said Callahan, who also is the only Northern Virginia member of the commission.
"I don't think we're going to be getting less than we're getting now," McDiarmid said of Northern Virginia. "The formula that we have we've pretty much gotten used to . . . . It's a fairly just formula."
Fifty-four percent of state aid, which totaled $3.3 billion over the last two years, is distributed among local school districts on an ability-to-pay formula. Each district receives a fixed amount of the remaining 46 percent.
The formula was last revised in 1972-73, and "the gap between those localities that have a high ability to pay and those that have a low ability to pay has widened," commission director Philip A. Leone said yesterday. "That's the overall theme to the report, that something needs to be done to address that disparity."
Fairfax County School Superintendent Robert R. Spillane said he was pleased the commission did not endorse any of the options and deferred to the General Assembly, "where we have a better chance . . . . I'm confident our Northern Virginia group will look out for us."
The commission report recommended that a greater share of funds be distributed based on ability to pay, which would cut the kitty going to wealthier school districts such as those in Northern Virginia.
The report also urged that the ability-to-pay formula be recalculated in a way that could benefit Northern Virginia, although not enough to offset its losses.