Asking the Fox to Guard the Hen House

The McKinley Elemenatary School expansion project is supposed to be the poster child for what’s right about the Arlington Public Schools (APS) More Seats for More Students program, in contrast to the Ashlawn project, which is a tree hugger’s nightmare.

Yet when you look at the details, there’s not much difference. The Ashlawn project demolished a tree lined hill overlooking Bluemont Park and removed 100 mature trees to put in a parking loop. The McKinley project will take out 77 mature trees, including a “significant” red oak to put 20 additional parking spaces.
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More Ways To Provide More Classroom Seats

At a projected cost of more than $2 million per additional class room and nearly $19,000 per student per year, APS must reduce its capital and operating outlays to cope with increasing enrollments. At previous School Board meetings, I’ve recommended the use of modular classroom design, historic preservation tax credits, energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy. All of these techniques have been demonstrated to cut capital and/or operating costs, sometimes by a lot.

Another possible opportunity to explore is the recent closure of St. Charles Elementary School on Washington Boulevard near Clarendon due to declining enrollment. Continue reading

Vote NO On the School Bond Referendum

On June 16, APS adopted a $453 million ten year capital budget that allocates $50.25 million for new elementary school classroom space at an unspecified location[s] in South Arlington. The original plan was to build an elementary school on the site of TJ Park near TJ Middle School off Glebe Road near Route 50. But community opposition was so strong that the School Board deferred a final decision about whether to build the school or extensions to other South Arlington schools for another six months.
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More Ways APS Can Save Money

I was very pleased with the Budget Advisory Council (BAC) end of year report, particularly its acknowledgment that it represents all Arlington taxpayers, not just the subset with children in school. I also welcome the fact that BAC has embraced the recommendations of the 2012 Gibson Report, which evaluated APS on behalf of the Virginia Department of Education. Among the principal findings of that report, BAC cited the recommendation to explore increasing pupil-teacher ratios to address soaring costs:

“The cost of a lower pupil-teacher ratio is significant in terms of staffing. If the APS determined overall teacher positions based on a ratio of 12:1 – a 15 percent increase from the current level of 10.4:1, but still below all but one of its peers – it would need 277 fewer teachers (p. 2-7)”.

The Gibson Report advises that if facility related expenditures are added to instructional expenditures, APS could realize more than $30 million in savings annually by bringing its pupil-teacher ratio in line with neighboring school districts. Continue reading

How APS Can Save Money

Most of the commentary at recent School Board meetings has been about where to construct new schools. There has been virtually no discussion about the estimated $435 million cost, presumably because everyone agrees with the Superintendent that Arlington can raise the money by issuing more bonds.

Even though the cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars has ballooned to $515 million, County Board has assured taxpayers that the project will be financed by leveraging the commercial real estate surcharge tax. So it says school construction will not compete with the trolley projects for bonds financed with residential real estate taxes.

Nevertheless ACB’s latest CIP indicates that $267 million for the trolleys will come from as yet unidentified federal and state grants. If those funds don’t materialize by the time construction is underway, the County will be forced to issue GO bonds or form a taxpayer subsidized Public Private partnership to finish the projects. That could place APS’ classroom capacity expansion project in jeopardy. Continue reading