In a last-minute effort to preserve after-school activities for more than 6,500 students, school and county officials announced a compromise yesterday, despite tight fiscal constraints.
"We will keep the schools open," County Executive Robert R. Neall said.
"We have reached an agreement with the Board (of Education) to continue to fund use of these facilities after hours.
"Consequently, there will be no closure of schools on weekends or after hours on weekdays. We are going to continue to work to find mutually agreeable solutions to the board's budget situation."
The school system is faced with a $8 million deficit. After-school activities were in danger of being cut after school Superintendent Larry L.
Lorton last week ordered schools to eliminate overtime pay for custodians at a savings of $620,000.
Custodians were paid overtime to clean schools after activities and also provided security for the schools during after-hours events.
School board president Nancy Gist said that under the compromise, the county executive, the school board and the Department of Parks and Recreation will meet to discuss how to find the money to pay the custodians.
Gist credited Lorton for approaching the county to find ways of continuing programs that in some communities provide the only structured recreational activities available.
"(Lorton) went to Bobby Neall to find some way to keep those programs going," Gist said last night. "We were talking about the quality of life.
The discussion between the two of them led to the change."
The change in plan is welcome news to parents like Elizabeth Francazi, mother of three elementary students involved in after-school basketball.
"I'm very glad they did changed their minds," Francazi said. "Kids need the after-school activities. It enhances what (teachers) recommend at school, since they only get physical education for a half-hour twice a week.
"If the decision would not have been changed, it would have meant more time sitting indoors during the winter, which they get too much of anyway.
"Also, a lot of people volunteer their time with the different associations. It really put them on the spot, because the kids were counting on it. I am very pleased," Francazi said.
But while after-school programs will be saved, Lorton, board members and county officials will still have their hands full making sure the budget can be balanced without touching other significant programs.
The school system's budget deficit is attributed to $5 million more than planned for salaries, along with an unexpected $2 million for energy costs, and tuition for special education students who live in the county but attend schools elsewhere.
"We are going to do our absolute best to see that direct services to citizens are the last area affected by any budget cuts," Neall said. "As we continue to monitor our county's fiscal condition, this and other difficult budgetary issues may need to be revisited."