A dim local budget picture and an upcoming state study on the efficiency of operating small schools could force the Loudoun County School Board to consider closing some small elementary schools in the next few years.

Most at risk would likely be Aldie and Hillsboro elementary schools, the two smallest in the county. Other schools that would fall into the small-school category of fewer than 125 students are Banneker, Middleburg, Waterford and Lucketts elementaries.

Western communities have fought against closing small schools for more than a decade. While officials representing the densely populated eastern end see little reason to spend extra money to operate western schools for 100 students, western officials argue that a school is the heart of its community and say a child should not have to be bused 10 or 15 miles just because the child's parents live west of Leesburg.

Gordon Fletcher, the school system's director of planning and its legislative liaison, said the Virginia General Assembly this year considered penalizing some jurisdictions with small schools, saying that their operation is too costly. It eventually softened the measure, directing a committee to study the issue.

Fletcher said he didn't think Loudoun would be subject to penalties. But he said that if the state tried to impose them, the county would apply for a waiver because it operates only a few small schools, and students there would have to endure long bus rides if they closed. He also said school closures "wouldn't just be a case of consolidating schools . . . . We might have to build new ones."

Fletcher said it would be unfair for the state to require the county to build more schools in its western areas at a time when it is building others in the east to keep up with growth.

Last week, the School Board voted 7 to 1 to reject a motion by William A. White (Broad Run), who proposed closing Aldie and Hillsboro elementaries to save $400,000 in the next school budget. But his next motion, calling for a local study of how small schools are run (the last was done in 1981), failed on a tie vote, showing that at least half the board may be ready to think about some closings.

The 1981 study showed that the school system spends an average of $1,100 more per student at small schools than it does at larger ones. Members Frederick Flemming (Leesburg), James M. Purks (Sterling) and James D. Callahan (Guilford) joined White in voting for a study. Barbara B. D'Elia (Dulles) said she supported the motion, but voted no because she thought the board should wait until its organizational meeting in July.

The board's strongest advocates of small schools are Edward J. Kiley (Mercer) and Joyce Rocks (Catoctin), who represent the districts in which the schools are located.

Kiley made no attempt to conceal his disgust at White's motion to close Aldie and Hillsboro. "This is a bad, evil decision to make for this reason. To save $400,000, {the board would} close two schools and gut two communities."

The votes came as the School Board worked to restore $500,000 to its budget. The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors first mandated a $5 million cut in the school budget, then reduced the cut to $4.5 million. "If we have to go through next year what we went through this year, I don't think these two schools {Aldie and Hillsboro} will survive," Flemming said.