Welcome to Extra Credit, Fairfax Extra's new column answering your questions about county schools. I'll start with just one question this week but will try to answer two or three a week in the future.

Dear Extra Credit:

Can boundaries in Fairfax County be redrawn to better balance the student populations between overcrowded and underutilized schools?

Lu Ann Maciulla McNabb

Westfield High School

and Stone Middle School parent

Fairfax County school system spokesman Paul Regnier has heard this excellent question before. The county's growth spurts are irksome to many people, and it is hard for schools to adjust.

Regnier says very few schools have surplus space. Most are operating at or above capacity. But those that do have some room tend to be in the eastern part of the county, which gives the school boundaries a lopsided look.

When the School Board redrew nearly all middle and high school attendance areas in the mid-1980s, it tried to use the available space in the east to relieve crowded schools in the west. Langley High School in McLean in the east, for instance, has an attendance area that extends west all the way to the border with Loudoun County.

School officials want to balance enrollment and capacity, but that is not the only consideration when moving those lines on their maps. South Lakes High, for instance, has 300 empty spaces and Westfield High is 600 students over capacity, but moving boundaries to correct this discrepancy would confuse and inconvenience thousands of other people.

"Although we try to use our school facilities as efficiently as possible," Regnier said, "filling the very small amount of space we currently have available would often require even more exaggerated attendance areas than exist today. . . . In many cases students would have to be transported past schools closer to their homes."

And that would generate more letters than I could ever handle.

Please send your questions -- along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number -- to Extra Credit, The Washington Post, 4020 University Dr., Suite 220, Fairfax, Va. 22030. Or send e-mail to extracredit@washpost.com.