A parade of department heads took turns in front of the School Board Monday night to explain the impact of proposed budget cuts to programs under their domain. Among the items on the chopping block, as suggested by two town meetings and schools superintendent Daniel Domenech, are eliminate fine arts and concert field trips, eliminate the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program, phase out first-grade foreign-language Immersion and reduce funding for library materials.
In addition, School Board members asked about the impact of doing away with the seven-period day, cutting back on the number of electives offered and switching popular academy courses such as criminal justice into school-based programs.
On the bright side, the School Board was informed it has to cut only $47.4 million, instead of the projected $64.7 million, from the proposed $1.6 billion budget after the county Board of Supervisors agreed in theory to increase the transfer to the schools by an additional $11.6 million and to eliminate the school's debt service payment of $5.7 million.
The School Board has not announced any cuts as yet, preferring to wait until after a scheduled public hearing Monday, May 13, at 7 p.m., at Jackson Middle School.
SCHOOL BOARD members expressed interest in trying to find ways of preserving programs such as the language immersion and JROTC, which has generated a lot of support from parents since the proposed cut list was released.
The Board asked if it would be possible to charge a fee for the JROTC program since it is not a required coourse and about asking the military to up its contribution to the program. Currently, the costs are evenly split between the school system and the military, and the instructors are military personnel.
"Can't we ask the military for more money?" asked School Board member Catherine Belter (Springfield).
"I think it's set. It's a nationwide rate," said deputy superintendent Alan Leis.
The JROTC program has 830 students currently enrolled, with a racial breakdown of 37 percent white, 31 percent black, 20 percent Hispanic, 9 percent Asian, 2 percent multiracial and .2 percent Native American. The program is offered at Edison, West Potomac, South Lakes, Herndon, Mount Vernon and Chantilly high schools and Hayfield Secondary. Eliminating the program would save the school system approximately $400,000.
"We have schools standing in line [to get the program]," said Nancy Sprague, assistant superintendent, Department of Instructional Services. "It took two years to get the Air Force because of a nationwide waiting list."
AS FOR THE LANGUAGE-immersion program, Sprague said the department had originally intended to limit the number of sites by language — two sites for Spanish, one site each for French, German and Japanese — at the middle-school level, but students wanted to stay at their own schools. Instead, the county offers the program at 13 middle schools, creating small classes throughout the county.
"There are other alternatives. There is a lot of expense involved in supporting small classes," Sprague said.
Beginning to phase out the program at the first-grade level from the 13 elementary schools where it is offered is expected to save $100,000.
"One thing that concerns me is, the students get such intensive instruction up through the fifth grade, and if we don't commit to continue the program through middle school, the last five years have been wasted," said School Board chairman Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mill). "I think to provide the program at the elementary-school level and not at the middle-school level, then we need to cut the whole thing."
Sprague said the department would look into the potential cost savings of combining the program as originally planned.