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.
I know this is a contentious issue, with taxpayers who want the best value for their tax dollar pitted against parents, who want the best education for their children. Some parents are unpersuaded by the fact that Fairfax County provides a comparable level of education for $5,000 less per pupil per year and that it costs more to send a child to school in Arlington County than anywhere else in the state of Virginia. They are steadfast in their belief that small class size is the sine qua non of learning excellence.
Nevertheless, unless APS finds ways to cut costs, the surge in student enrollment will soon overwhelm the tax base. Gibson Report offers several interim solutions, among them:
1) Cut administrative costs by reducing the number of top level administrative personnel (p. 1-9).
2) Cut excessive maintenance costs by reducing the number of custodial positions (p. 4-13).
A third option offered by GreenPathEnergySolutions.com is to cut energy costs by incorporating LEED energy efficiency features in all school renovation projects. Yet a fourth option is to consolidate school maintenance operations with the County. BAC should explore all these alternatives next year.