City of Manassas

The following were among actions taken at the Sept. 11 meeting of the Manassas School Board. For more information, call 361-0166.

SAT SCORES -- Responding to the results of Manassas students' overall weak performance on the Scholastic Aptitude college entrance test {SAT}, the School Board directed staff to study ways of improving basic skills in the elementary grades.

At the meeting, Director of Pupil Services Nancy Cook told the board that Manassas student scores on the SAT -- a two-part test with a combined perfect score of 1,600 -- dropped most steeply in the verbal section. The average score on the verbal section fell 19 points to 411, while the score on the math section dropped 12 points to 459.

Nationally, the average score on the SATs fell for the fourth consecutive year, but the decline this year -- three points -- came only in the verbal section. The average on the verbal score fell to 424. The average score on the mathmatics test remained 476.

The College Board, which develops the SATs, attributes the drop in the national average to poor reading and writing skills, pointing to statistics that show half of all senior high school students read 10 or fewer pages a day.

In response to Cook's report, board members asked Associate Superintendent of Instruction Thomas G. Bentson to study ways of providing in-class assistance to students who are having trouble with basic skills, such as reading and writing.

Benston suggested a tutorial program for first-graders called Reading Recovery, which is currently being implemented at some schools in Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington counties. In Reading Recovery, which costs about $2,000 per student, a reading specialist works one-on-one with students in the classroom to help them catch up with their peers' reading skills.

BUDGET -- The board gave final approval to Superintendent of Schools James Upperman's plans to freeze $1.2 million in the school budget and to use those frozen funds as a reserve fund to offset potential cuts in state aid to Manassas.

Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder has proposed cutting $173 million in state aid to local schools in order to help balance a projected $1.4 billion state budget deficit by July 1993.

Manassas schools had anticipated receiving about $6.6 million in state funding -- about 20 percent of the schools' $31.4 million fiscal year 1991 budget.

Upperman had already frozen hiring for nearly 28 vacant positions, with previous board approval, saving about $350,000. An additional $180,000 in spending for items such as office equipment also has been postponed.

The remainder of the frozen funds were earmarked for a variety of areas, such as travel, educational supplies, outside services used by the schools and school maintenance materials. The board also approved freezing about $162,157 for a prepayment of the school insurance premium for 1991-92.

In addition to possible cuts in state aid at the direction of the governor, Associate Superintendent of Adminstration John R. Rose told the board that the schools may face an additional $200,000 reduction in state aid because of lower than anticipated enrollement.

State "basic aid," which does not include aid for special programs such as for students with handicaps, is based on the number of students in a school system.

Last spring, school officials projected an enrollment of 4,992. However, as of Tuesday, the schools were 141 students short of that projection.

A finance official said the 141 shortfall could result in a $200,000 loss in state aid.

BROADCASTING MEETINGS -- The board, in a 5-to-1 vote, agreed to ask the local television cable station to telecast the School Board meetings, beginning Nov. 13.

If Cablevision agrees to the request, the meetings would be broadcast on Channel One. The regularly scheduled meetings are held the second and fourth Tuesday of every month and sometimes run more than three hours.

As a public service to the localities, Cablevision currently telecasts City Council meetings in Manassas and Manassas Park at no charge.

Board members in favor of telecasting their meetings said it would allow residents who do not attend meetings to follow school issues more closely.

Board member Nancy Van Wyen said "I'd rather them hear it first hand than see it in a summary in the newspaper."

Casting the only dissenting vote was Thomas Bradford, who argued that board members would react differently to issues when in front of a television camera. "The evil outweighs the good in this case," he said. Besides, he added, "I'm not sure anyone is going to watch it."