PRESS Release: School Construction Cost Report Fudges the Numbers

I’m Audrey Clement, the Independent candidate for Arlington School Board, and I regret to inform you that Arlington Public Schools (APS) is manipulating its capital cost data.

The attempt to hoodwink the voters appears in a report commissioned by the APS Auditor, "Cost Study for Arlington Public Schools", which purports to show that APS school construction costs are in line with the rest of the metropolitan area.

The first red herring is a table on page 21 that lists the per pupil cost of Alice Fleet Elementary, now under construction, as $62,500, rather than the actual per pupil cost of $78,457. The APS cost report does this by subtracting the $12 million parking garage from the school’s $59 million price tag. APS argues that Arlington schools cost more because of the need for structured parking. That may well be true, but that doesn’t give the APS Auditor license to fudge capital cost data.

The second red herring is the report’s principal conclusion that "APS’ high school construction costs are less than 9 of the 14 – or two-thirds of the projects analyzed for this cost comparison study (p. 26)."

Inspection of the high school construction projects listed on page 24 of the report does indeed show Arlington’s Wakefield High and Wilson Secondary School with lower total cost than most of the other schools on the list. But total cost is not the right metric. Comparative cost analysis is done using cost per pupil or cost per square foot, not total cost. That should be obvious, since a school that provides 775 seats at $100 million is more expensive than a school that provides 1500 seats at $110 million.

Page 25 of the report shows a per pupil cost of $60,500 for the 1,960 seat Wakefield High and a per pupil cost of $130,300 for the 775 seat Wilson Secondary. That reduces to a weighted average per pupil cost for both schools of $80,279, which is more than the per pupil cost of any other new school in the metropolitan area except those constructed in the District of Columbia.

Comparing Arlington schools to DC schools is like comparing apples to oranges. First, the District of Columbia gets 23 percent of its revenue from the federal government, in contrast with Arlington, which gets 1 percent from the feds. That extra change comes in handy when covering cost overruns and extravagant amenities.

Second, almost half of DC students attend charter schools, paid for in part by private operators. That means that DC can concentrate its capital expenditures on building capacity for fewer students in its remaining public schools. This explains the higher per pupil costs of DC schools and the unfairness of expecting Arlington taxpayers to assume the same tax burden.

I’ve cited just some of the distortions and alternate facts in APS’ latest cost report. If you’re concerned about where your tax dollars are going, I challenge you to dig up more.

If you’re looking for a School Board member who will send this cost report back to the APS Auditor for correction, then look no further. I’m a 14-year Westover resident and civic activist–with a Ph.D. in Political Science and service as a Congressional Fellow. I also serve on the Arlington Transportation Commission.

If elected, I pledge to:

  • Preserve the name: Washington-Lee High School.
  • Reverse declining high school test scores.
  • Close the minority student achievement gap.
  • Constrain School Board spending.
  • Listen to the concerns of all taxpayers.
  • Build schools not trailers on time and on budget.
  • Mainstream special needs students.
  • End "teaching to the test".
  • Install efficient renewable energy in all public schools.
  • Promote school safety with a focus on violence prevention.

If you share my agenda, then:

  • Spread the word about my candidacy.
  • Volunteer to help.
  • Donate to my campaign.

If you’re interested in helping out, just shoot me an email or call or text. If you want to find out more about my campaign, visit my website.

Together we can make Arlington Public Schools provide all students with an honest education.

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