The WRAPS Process Isn’t Democratic

At the December 18 County Board meeting, Katie Elmore, spokesperson for the North Rosslyn Civic Association, complained about WRAPS, the planning group that advised County Board on what to do with the site of the current Wilson School. She was unhappy that WRAPS did not consider preservation of historic Wilson School.
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Advice from a Maverick

Congratulations to Nancy Van Doren and Barbara Kanninen on their election to Arlington School Board. I also want to thank those who supported my recent campaign for School Board. I got 33 percent of the vote or more than 18,000 votes, which is respectable, considering that my opponent was endorsed by both the Democratic Party and the Washington Post. By contrast I ran as a maverick on a fraction of my opponent’s budget, garnering no party or newspaper endorsements at all. Yet it is clear that my ideas about good government are gaining traction in this county.
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New School Options–Where Are the Numbers?

School Board’s search for an appropriate site for a new middle school has become a moving target, with neighborhoods pitted against one another as the host location. Good reasons have been advanced to rule out the current site of HB Woodlawn, the Reed School in Westover and the Wilson School in Rosslyn.

In view of these well considered objections, it appears that the only viable option consists in additions to three existing middle schools. Yet APS has all but ruled out additions due to cost.
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Hard Questions for Arlington Public Schools

Democratic candidates for local office issued a press release the other day promising to deal with Arlington’s enrollment crisis.

Unfortunately they will not be able to meet the challenge under Arlington Public School’s (APS) recently adopted capital budget, as it projects a 2,500 seat deficit even AFTER spending $383 million to produce 4,000 additional seats.
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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

Preserve Wilson School with Virginia Historic Tax Credits

I was happy to learn at the May 22 and June 8 School Board meetings that other Arlington residents are concerned about plans to build a 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the Wilson School in Rosslyn. I was particularly impressed with Arlington lawyer Kristin Woody’s rationale for recommending the M5 alternative instead. The M5 alternative described in Arlington Public Schools (APS) Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposal, would relocate the Reed School to Madison Community Center; relocate HB Woodlawn HS to the Reed School and renovate the HB Woodlawn building for use as a new Stratford MS.
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