Education Notebook - 07/16/03

Education Notebook - 07/16/03

PACE Files for Charter School

<bt>Parents for Autistic Children's Education (PACE) filed a preliminary application July 1 to open the first special-education charter school in Fairfax County. The county School Board has until December to either approve or deny the group's request.

Should the application be approved, PACE, a not-for-profit organization of parents in Northern Virginia who have children with autism, hope to open their facility by July 2004.

The charter school will use the Applied Behavior Analysis, or ABA, method of teaching.

"It's kind of a working document. The way it works is they submit the application, staff reviews it and asks questions, and they can refine their proposal. We'll have a meeting with them either the last week of July or the first week of August and they have until November to submit their finalized version," said Nancy Sprague, chief academic officer for Fairfax County Public Schools.

<1b>— Jennifer Lesinski

<sh>Chair Appointed Criticized

<bt>The School Board approved the chairships for its various board committees Thursday, July 10, once again with the Republican-endorsed minority objecting to the selections.

Christian Braunlich (Lee) said that before the 1996, when the School Board was still appointed, the chairships were based on expertise and not political parties, however, since becoming an elected board the selection has been politically driven, especially when it comes to what he called "the committees that make key decisions" — instruction, budget and finance, and facilities.

"Since 1996, there has been one person, one Republican, named to head facilities and that was for one year. The rest have been Democrats," Braunlich said. "Mrs. [Tessie] Wilson is an accountant. It is what she does by trade [which should qualify her to head the budget and finance committee]. Mrs. [Rita] Thompson is a former teacher and an associate dean of admission at a major college. She should know what children need and she's never gotten close to the instruction chairship."

Ernestine Heastie (Providence) also said the School Board has become increasingly political over the last eight years.

"I've said before I think we're more political than the Board of Supervisors. But over the years as issues come up, we make decisions that benefit the students," Heastie said. "Unfortunately, we never got to the level of trust and that's on both sides."

The board voted 8-3, along party lines and with Thompson absent, to make Braunlich the administrative and general services chair; Catherine Belter (Springfield) the audit chair and board liaison to the Fairfax Partnership for Youth; Kaye Kory (Mason) the facilities chair and board liaison to the Fairfax County Athletic Council; Stuart Gibson (Hunter Mills) the finance and budget chair; Jane Strauss (Dranesville) the human resources chair and board liaison to the Human Relations Advisory Committee; Kathy Smith (Sully) the instruction chair and board liaison to the Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee; Heastie the legislation chair and board liaison to Virginia Cares; Robert Frye (At Large) the policy review chair and board liaison to the Fairfax City School Board; Thompson (At large) the strategic planning and evaluation chair; Wilson (Braddock) the student service chair and board liaison to the School Health Advisory Committee; and Mychele Brickner (At large) the technology chair.

<1b>— Jennifer Lesinski

<sh>Castro Withdraws from Race

<bt>Isis Castro (Mount Vernon) announced she is withdrawing from the School Board race, citing personal issues, effective July 11.

"To deal with personal issues, I must withdraw from the School Board race. I had hoped to resolve these issues in time to continue serving on the School Board, but since I have not been able to, I will withdraw from the race and will finish my term on the board," Castro said in a press release.

Castro, who was elected in 1999, said she is supporting Daniel Storck, one of two challengers for the Mount Vernon seat. A native of Cuba, Castro became a United States citizen in 1972 and has served on many boards and committees. She has also taught Spanish at every level including college.

With Castro's withdrawal, the School Board now has five open seats — three currently occupied by Democratically-endorsed members and two by Republican-endorsed members — which opens the door for political shift on the board, which has an 8-4 Democratic majority, as a result of the November elections.

Of the 12 total seats on the board, only three are going into the election uncontested, Democratically-endorsed Jane Strauss (Dranesville), Republican-endorsed Tessie Wilson (Braddock) and Democratically-endorsed Phil A. Niedzielski-Eichner, who is unopposed in his pursuit of the Providence seat, which is being vacated by Ernestine Heastie, who is retiring. The deadline to fill for the School Board race was June 10.

<sh>Fiscal Forecast Dim

<bt>The School Board is looking at bridging an $84.3 million gap for the fiscal year 2005 budget.

"We're estimating a $1.8 billion budget and an $84 million deficit," said Deirdra McLaughlin, the chief financial officer.

The forecast includes a 2 percent cost of living and increases in employee benefits and retirement rates. In addition, it includes funds for radio upgrades on buses and textbook adoptions. It is based on a 5 percent transfer, the amount of increase of funding from the county's general fund.

McLaughlin said the school system has a beginning balance for FY '05 of $10 million, which is $34 million less than last year. She also cautioned that the forecast could become even bleaker since it assumes no changes in the current level of outside funding. The General Assembly will be adopting the first year of the biennial budget this upcoming session, which in the past has resulted in funding formula changes.

"There are a lot of outside factors that could change the assumptions in this forecast," said Daniel Domenech, superintendent of schools.

<1b>— Jennifer Lesinski

<sh>FCPS Events Calendar

<bt>Saturday, July 19

* Chantilly High School reunion, class of 1978. Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner, Vienna.

* Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology reunion, class of 1973. Hyatt Fair Lakes Hotel, Fairfax.

For more information, call 800-655-7971 or on the Web,

Thursday, July 24, 7:30 p.m.

School Board regular business meeting. Luther Jackson Middle School, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church.

Saturday, July 26

* Oakton High School reunion, class of 1983. Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner, Vienna.

* Oakton High School reunion, class of 1993. Holiday Inn Tysons Corner, McLean.

For more information, call 800-655-7971 or on the Web,

Monday, July 28

First day of school, modified-calendar elementary schools.