(WJLA) - A standing-room only crowd packed into a Loudoun County school board hearing Monday night, hoping to convince board members not to close four rural elementary schools.
The hearing started at 6:30 p.m. and lasted late into the night. A total of 178 people had signed up to speak when the meeting started. School board members are considering closing Aldie, Hamilton, Hillsboro, and Lincoln elementary schools for budget reasons.
The schools are all old, small, and in the western part of Loudoun County.
Although the school board has considered closing the schools in past years, parents say this time the threat seems far more serious.
"We're a little nervous," said Aldie Elementary parent Stacie Sutphin. "We'd like to think they haven't made their decision, and we still have a fighting chance."
Earlier this month, the Loudoun County board of supervisors voted to give the school board about $38 million less to operate than it had asked for.
That said, the board of supervisors did vote to increase the school system's budget by about $47 million for next school year, and many who came Monday night felt that should be more than enough to save the four schools.
"This board is taking this action in a fit because you didn't get what you wanted from the board of supervisors, and you're telling our children that what you do when you're angry is to hurt other people!" thundered Ben Cates of Purcellville, causing the crowd to explode in cheers.
Many parents and students at the four schools say they are centerpieces of their communities, and they say the fact that they are small helps students get individual attention and improves achievement.
A Loudoun County schools spokesperson says this week marks the start of a critical period for the school board when it comes to the budget. Many final decisions are expected to be made over the next week or so.