Planetarium Supporters Prepare for Vote

The endgame for the Arlington County Planetarium is near. Arlington Public Schools superintendent Dr. Pat Murphy and planetarium supporters have exchanged offers, counteroffers, and responses to counteroffers. Now, the school board is preparing to vote on the planetarium’s fate.

On Thursday, the board will vote on the school system’s FY2011 budget, which would include any planetarium funding or lack thereof. Leaders of the “Friends of the Planetarium” group, who are actively representing more than 3,200 Facebook “fans” and 900 petition signers, say they are not sure which way the board will vote.

At this point, it’s also not clear which of three possible “scenarios” the board would be voting on. The scenarios range from retaining one full-time planetarium teacher for K-5 students and hiring hourly staff as needed on weekends, to using the planetarium as classroom space during the week and only hiring for weekend shows (while also funding K-2 field trips to the Einstein Planetarium at the National Air and Space Museum).

Each scenario presumes the planetarium would remain functional for 12-18 months while the Friends raise funds for necessary upgrades.

The Friends are pushing for the planetarium to remain staffed full-time for educational use.

If the board votes “no” on planetarium funding, it’s assumed that it will meet the fate proposed under Dr. Murphy’s original budget, which called for the planetarium to be closed and used as a classroom for Washington-Lee High School.

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