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
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
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.
The Superintendent’s Recommended Capital Improvement Program (CIP) indicates that within the next five years Arlington schools will have a deficit of 1,000 elementary school seats, 1,000 middle school seats, and about 500 high school seats.
To meet the demand for more seats the CIP proposes to:
- build a new 725 seat elementary school in South Arlington for $50 million;
- expand Abingdon School for $29 million;
- construct a new 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the current Wilson School for $117 million;
- construct a 1,300 seat new high school at the site of the Arlington Career Center for $149 million;
- expand Washington-Lee High school for $5 million;
I applaud Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) recent announcement that it plans to defer consideration of Lubber Run Park as the site for a new school. Construction of new schools on parkland should be permanently ruled out, since Arlington has lost too much green space already. However, the prospect of tearing down the existing historic Wilson School to make way for a 1,300 seat secondary school in an already congested Rosslyn neighborhood, strikes me as bizarre. Wilson School should be preserved and renovated as an elementary school, the way it was designed. Continue reading
There’s been a lot of contention among Arlington County residents who want to preserve key programs and those who are disgusted that the county’s tax and fee burden is larger than any other jurisdiction in the region, except possibly Falls Church. People want to know why with steadily rising assessments and tax hikes, core county programs are under served.
The elephant in the room is Arlington Public Schools (APS). APS’ 2015 operating budget is projected at $539.4 million. In 2015 the County funds transfer to APS will increase by $19.6 million to $432.2 or almost half the County’s operating budget. Yet that will not be enough to spare a $1.6 million adult high school diploma program at Arlington Mill Community Center. Continue reading
Dissatisfaction with the Arlington Ashlawn Elementary School expansion project resulted from approval of the Manchester Street entrance, which will pave over a bucolic hill in a sensitive watershed area to put in a parking lot and drop-off loop. Continue reading
My comments below at the January 25, 2014 County Board meeting about the County’s unauthorized removal of trees on the Ashlawn ES site and plans to remove additional trees not authorized by its use permit drew a stern rebuke of the County Manager from no less than four County Board members. The Board is unhappy that it was not consulted about the plans and the fact that the Manager did not seek to modify the use permit it had authorized for the project last May. Continue reading
I want to pay tribute to Bob Atkins, prominent GOP civic activist, who died recently. Bob grabbed headlines when at a budget hearing last spring he commented on the impact of impending federal budget cuts, saying: “The goose that laid the golden egg has reached menopause.”
This hilarious mixed metaphor should give pause to those wondering about the cost of the Ashlawn Elementary School extension, which has ballooned from $12 million to $20 million in a year’s time. Continue reading