Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Fairfax Holds First of Two Budget Hearings

Fairfax Holds First Budget Hearing
By B.J. Koubaroulis
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 21, 2009; E07

The Fairfax County School Board hosts its first hearing tonight to allow the public to air concerns over its proposed 2010 budget, which could include cuts of indoor track and gymnastics by the time the final document is adopted in May.

The revised $2.2 million budget proposal, released by Superintendent Jack D. Dale on Jan. 8, listed only gymnastics among the cuts, but Bill Curran, the county's director of athletics, acknowledged recently that indoor track is "not out of the woods."

In November, when three tiers of budget cuts were initially put up for consideration, indoor track was cut only in the most severe tier -- and not in newest proposal.

However, an expected $170 million shortfall stemming from a steep decline in housing prices and anticipated tax revenue, coupled with a potential rise in enrollment, could place both sports in jeopardy by the time the final document is submitted.

Between 125 and 200 gymnasts and nearly 2,800 indoor track athletes compete in Fairfax County.

Both sports will have supporters speak in their defense at the 6 p.m. hearing at Luther Jackson Middle School in Falls Church.

"We still have four months to go," Curran said. "We still have until May and who knows what can happen until then. I think it's important that those groups still get heard."

At 6 a.m. on Jan. 9 the county opened a portal on its Web site at http://fcps.edu/ where concerned citizens could register for one of 120 available three-minute time slots at today's public hearing. The slots filled in less than two hours, forcing the county to schedule a second hearing for Jan. 27.

"Our view is, we need to stay vigilant and focused and keep it in the front of people's minds," said Dan Woolley, the president of Friends of Indoor Track who will speak next week.
Woolley started a "Save Indoor Track" initiative as a reaction to Dale's November budget proposal.

Paul Regnier, a spokesman for Dale, said that if the county's Board of Supervisors does not provide additional aid in absorbing 5,000 new students, and the state does not provide additional financial aid, then indoor track could be cut before the school board adopts its budget in May.

"If we have to swallow the addition of 5,000 students, plus reduction of state aid, then, under those circumstances, there would be pretty drastic cuts and that would include indoor track," Regnier said.

Woolley, a 53-year-old computer company executive and USA Track and Field national official, has recruited a diverse crop of speakers for tonight's hearing, including a police officer, physician, nutritionist, and gang task force member, all willing to vouch for the sport's importance.
Since November, Woolley has been the driving force behind an e-mail campaign that has flooded the inboxes of county officials. The group has also used other Internet tools, including Facebook to mobilize.

Curran said that he received approximately 300 e-mails about the proposed budget cuts.
Woolley will be part of a show of support at today's meeting that includes parents, coaches, athletes and others clad in red T-shirts with "Save Indoor Track" printed across the front.

"We need to keep it short, keep it sweet," said Woolley. "Keep it to the point. Don't save the best for last. Focus on the value it brings to you, the value it brings to the community."

It is unclear how many of today's speakers will speak on behalf of gymnastics, but supporters of the sport have recently organized an e-mail campaign, Facebook page and online petition.

W.T. Woodson gymnastics coach Mike Cooper, a 25-year coaching veteran of gymnastics in Northern Virginia, said he will speak at the second hearing on Tuesday.

According to a bulleted list of facts Cooper shared with The Post, he is expected to challenge the school board's anticipated cuts as they relate to Title IX, the 1972 law mandating gender equity at federally funded institutions.

Cooper will also dispute the county's recent assertions that gymnastics is a dying sport among high school girls, claiming that there are 21 programs among 25 high schools, 17 full programs, with two new programs forming in the last two seasons.

According to Curran, 125 gymnasts compete in Fairfax County's gymnastics programs; supporters of the sport say the figure is closer to 200. Curran also said that the sport has suffered at the high school level because of the popularity of club gymnastics.

"This was coming on its own," Curran said, "because of the continued decline of interest [in gymnastics] at the scholastic level because it's so popular at the community level."

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