In a move signaling lean times for Loudoun County schools, the district has created a list of programs, such as elementary art and music classes, that could be cut to save $7.2 million in next year's budget.

The list is the first of its kind in the county, where development and growth in recent years have fueled a steady expansion of school programs and increases in the district budget, Superintendent David N. Thomas said.

It was delivered to the School Board last week as district officials calculated they could face a shortfall of more than $4 million because of lower local tax revenue and cuts of as much as $4 million in state aid.

"That has got to be made up in local funds if you want to maintain what you had last year," said C. Carroll Laycock Jr. (Blue Ridge), School Board chairman. "We have got to set our priorities . . . . This is a completely different philosophy from years past."

Thomas said district officials will use the list as a planning tool between now and late February, when a budget vote is scheduled. The district will turn to the 15 proposals only as a last resort, Thomas said. Residents may comment on early budget proposals during the School Board meeting Tuesday.

"I'm going to do everything I can to avoid going to that list," Thomas said. "The list is really a description of what makes this a quality school system."

The proposal, accounting for $7.2 million in costs, includes areas considered nonessential because they are not mandated by the state: driver education, athletic programs, gifted and talented classes, alternative education, preschool programs for disadvantaged children, portions of summer school and other areas. The district has about 14,000 students.

Joyce S. Rocks (Catoctin), the School Board member who suggested creating the list last summer, said she wants parents and taxpayers to know how much the programs cost when budget talks get started. Rocks said she considers some cuts next year inevitable.

"I don't think people are used to looking at things in this way," Rocks said. "I'm not looking forward to these negotiations."

In putting together the proposal, the district is anticipating more backlash from the region's economic slowdown, Laycock said. School officials want to prepare for the worst, Laycock said.

Because nearly 80 percent of the budget goes toward salaries and other fixed costs, officials have few areas to save money, Laycock said. The current $94.5 million budget was scaled back by $4.5 million after the county Board of Supervisors rejected it as too costly.

Thomas anticipates the district will need $11.2 million more this year to pay for increases in fuel, salaries, health insurance and new students.