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Peter’s Take: Board Continues Shortchanging Our Schools

by Peter Rousselot — February 27, 2014 at 1:45 pm 1,658 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe proposed FY 2015 Arlington County Budget continues the Arlington County Board’s pattern of providing too small a share of our tax dollars to Arlington Public Schools (APS).

Background

While school enrollment is projected to continue to surge, and while educational challenges are continuing to rise, APS’ share of the tax revenue we provide to the County was shrinking even prior to the latest County-proposed budget:

“The share of revenue that APS has received from the County has declined in recent years, from 46.1 percent in FY 2011 and FY 2012 to 45.6 percent in FY 2014,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael wrote in an open letter to County Board Chair Jay Fisette.

The FY 2015 Budget

Despite repeated pleas last fall from parents to the County Board to rectify this inequity — pleas that were rudely and inappropriately criticized by some County Board members — the latest proposed County budget fails to rectify the inequity. It still proposes the 45.6 percent shrunken share.

On Feb. 21, the School Board once again requested that the share be restored to 46.1 percent.  If granted, this increase would produce an additional $4.8 million in revenue in FY2015.

Why is the County Board continuing to shortchange our public schools?

Why have we gotten to the point where the School Board feels compelled to write a public letter to the County Board asking the County Board to restore APS’ historic share of the tax dollars we pay? Why do some members of the County Board tell members of the taxpaying public (who fund our government 24/7/365) that there are only certain months each year when the public can ask the County Board for more resources for our schools?

If anything, the School Board was too deferential when its Chair noted in her letter that “the School Board understands that the County Board has many priorities to balance in meeting the needs of our residents.” The persistent problem the School Board faces is that the County Board has the wrong priorities.

The County Board’s priorities are wrong because the County Board is:

  • committing our money to vanity projects like an unnecessary $310+ million Columbia Pike streetcar, a gold-plated $80+ million Aquatics Center, and an extravagant $1.7 million Clarendon dog park;
  • pouring our money into tax increment financing schemes (TIF). Under TIF, increased revenues amounting to millions of dollars are no longer available to fund any other services such as schools;
  • failing to give first priority to using our money to fund core services like schools.

In these times of surging enrollment and new instructional challenges, APS deserves an even higher share of our money than the School Board seeks in its Feb. 21 letter. 

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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