Cuts in the number of teaching positions in some of Loudoun County's smaller elementary schools were scaled back this month, abruptly ending the possibility of "combination classes" in several schools.

At the same time, the School Board has taken steps to examine the staffing, budgets and quality of the smaller schools as the county and state face the prospect of decreasing revenue next year.

The potential combination classes, in which one teacher must teach two grade levels in one classroom, had angered some Loudoun County parents, who spoke out against the classes at a School Board meeting in June.

But Superintendent David N. Thomas has announced that the school system, which was given $4.5 million less than it asked for by the county's Board of Supervisors this year, had saved enough money in hiring teachers that nine of the projected 11 new combination classes were eliminated.

"We have been able, by careful hiring, to get rid of the combination classes in schools that were having them for the first time," said Molly Converse, a Loudoun schools spokeswoman.

By paying the teachers who were hired less than the $43,000 annual salary figure used during budget planning, Loudoun was able to hire an additional seven full-time teachers and a half-time teacher.

The salaries average $3,000 to $4,000 less per teacher. The teachers have an average of 4 1/2 years of experience, down from the 6 1/2 years that new Loudoun teachers have had in the past, officials said.

"We've interviewed more people, been more careful, and we've been able to hire people with slightly less experience," Converse said.

The schools that will now have no combination classes in the coming year are Banneker, Middleburg and Waterford. At Hillsboro, instead of one combined class there will now be two, of third- and fourth-graders and fourth- and fifth-graders. Lincoln also will have one new combination class: the third and fourth grades.

"We're very pleased that the School Board and the superintendent agreed with our concerns and found the available people to fill those positions," said Dennis J. Godfrey, a parent who represented the Middleburg PTA at the June meeting.

"It's not a greatly different {teacher} profile than in recent years," said Sharon Ackerman, the school system's personnel director. "We have hired teachers with zero to two years of experience, and some with 18 years."

Still, some parents are concerned that the budget and staffing problems that characterized this year will continue.

"We won this year, but it could be an empty victory if we can't maintain the one-teacher-per-grade coverage," Godfrey said.

With an eye toward next year, the seven members present at the School Board's Aug. 14 meeting indicated they would name a Small Schools Study Committee in September. The panel, whose exact composition is still undecided, would report to the School Board by December on issues such as the size a school should be to be considered educationally and financially viable, and how to improve a school that lags in those categories.

The board tentatively settled on a committee that will include six parents, two teachers, two principals, a chairman, and a nonvoting school administration representative.

"We want to recognize that it's been 10 years since this was studied, and we want to revisit the issue," said Chairman C. Carroll Laycock Jr. last week. "We would like to see this report back to us before the budget deliberations, where it will certainly have an impact."

The debate over the small elementary schools often takes on east-west overtones in Loudoun. In the more rural western region, some residents say local schools are the primary return on their tax dollars, while in the more densely developed east, some residents believe they are paying too much to avoid combined classes or school closings in western Loudoun.

One recommendation that could surface from the group is closing or consolidating some small schools to avoid the financial and staffing problems of this year. School Board members acknowledged that keeping small schools open, as state and county governments face reduced revenues, will be a major challenge.