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by Mark Kelly — May 21, 2015 at 1:45 pm 511 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThumbs Up to the County Board for delaying consideration of the proposal to extend parking meter hours from 6pm to 8pm. After watching ground floor retail space sit empty, hopefully the Board will scrap this idea altogether when they reconsider it this fall.

Thumbs Up to Board Members Vihstadt and Garvey for refusing to vote for the Washington Redskins resolution.

There is no shortage of strong opinions as to whether the Washington Redskins should change their name. But when it comes to Members of the Arlington County Board, their personal opinions on the matter have nothing to do with their responsibilities to take care of the needs of Arlington County. Our fortunes will not rise or fall on the name of Washington’s professional football team whose stadium is in Maryland.

The resolution did support the team’s move to Virginia, provided it had a new name. Of course, when FedEx Field was constructed Arlington’s elected leaders ultimately opposed a site in the County and would almost certainly do so again.

Thumbs Down to meaningless resolutions from our County Board.

Telling a football team what to do with its name is not the first time the Board has taken up this type of resolution. In 2012, for example, the Board called on Congress and the American people to pass a Constitutional Amendment limiting the ability of corporations to enjoy the protections of the First Amendment and make political contributions. That resolution essentially called the Citizens United Supreme Court case a threat to our democracy. Though to my knowledge, no County Board Member who voted for that resolution ever refused to accept corporate contributions to their own campaigns as allowed by Virginia law.

Thumbs Down to the Board for unanimously adopting a plan to build an inadequate ART bus facility. As the County’s press release noted, “The new ART bus facility will not be large enough to meet all the County’s projected needs for ART facilities. It can house neither the entire existing ART fleet, nor accommodate all of the buses that will expand the fleet over the next decade.”

The total cost of the ART facility and surrounding street improvements will cost at least $17.6 million, but will only save the taxpayers $57,000 per year.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — May 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm 308 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 Rousselot

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe continues to display effective leadership by tirelessly promoting economic development. McAuliffe is:

1. Working to end Virginia’s over-reliance on federal defense spending, and
2. Seeking to diversify Virginia’s economy to take up the slack.

McAuliffe was here in Arlington two weeks ago highlighting cybersecurity and biotechnology as two areas particularly poised for growth.

According to the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, the decline in federal spending has contributed to a region-wide shift from higher-paying jobs — government contractor and subcontractor — to lower paying jobs:

The shift has helped drive down the region’s gross regional product, an indicator of an economy’s health, by nearly $243 million since last year. Fewer highly paid workers, in turn, has led to … higher office vacancy rates and–year after year–reductions in the projected flow of tax dollars that help pay for schools, roads and other government services.

Stephen Fuller, the Director of the Center for Regional Analysis, underscored the problem:

“We’ve just had it easy for so long that we’ve never had to work at this.” Steady increases in federal spending, which reached a peak of $80.7 billion in 2010, kept the Washington region relatively stable during the recession. But it also fostered a false sense of security. “The message is clear: We need to rebrand ourselves and promote our assets.”

Fuller’s message is exactly the gospel that McAuliffe relentlessly continues to preach:

We have to build our own new economy, less reliant on the federal government, bring in new businesses, new interests. That’s what [my] focus has been since taking office in 2014. In slightly more than a year as governor, there have been 350 economic development projects and $6.3 billion in economic activity.

McAuliffe has stressed the importance of workforce development, credentialing, and apprenticeships: “Virginia needs to keep pace with employers’ needs if it wants to retain large companies. [We] need to cater to the large veteran population in Virginia by offering certifications for skills learned in the military.”

He is working closely with Senators Kaine and Warner to block the next round of federal automatic across-the-board sequestration cuts. Those cuts currently are scheduled to take effect on October 1, 2015. In a nutshell, McAuliffe’s message on sequestration is: “there have to be smarter ways to cut the federal budget.”

Conclusion

The Arlington County government cannot rely on the federal government gravy train the way Arlington has in the past. We need to spend every one of our tax dollars wisely. Kudos to Governor McAuliffe for:

  • candidly explaining the situation, and
  • highlighting what all Virginia leaders must do to adjust to our new economic realities.

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.

by Progressive Voice — May 21, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1,193 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s organization or of ARLnow.com.

Frederico CuraWith Arlington’s school population growth, the need for expanded classroom space has become an important priority.

Throughout the 1990s, Democratic General Assembly candidates ran on a platform of making state funds available to lessen the heavy financial burden of localities facing growing demand for classroom space.

Unfortunately for Arlington, the General Assembly remained under Republican control and state funding for school construction has been kept off the table. Virginia’s Department of Education website reflects this short-sighted policy: “Counties and cities in Virginia are independent political entities of the state (so are school boards that own and maintain their facilities). Therefore public school construction projects are financed through local funds.”

State funding for local school construction makes sense given the significant state educational mandates. But General Assembly Republicans have refused to supplement local classroom construction funding.

As we see now, it is difficult for localities to cut spending, raise taxes, promote economic development, or create debt capacity quickly enough to meet high growth in student population. Availability of the state’s significantly greater resources in times of unusually rapid student population growth would promote high-quality education.

What did the Republican legislators do instead of providing school construction funds?

In God We Trust sign in front of Key Elementary (photo courtesy Frederico Cura)They mandated pushing on the state’s children — of diverse backgrounds and religious beliefs — state-sponsored religion in taxpayer-funded, government-run public schools.

I discovered this when I went to my kids’ elementary school in Arlington and noticed a large prominent sign next to the front door with “In God We Trust” superimposed on an American flag. It felt like a throwback to Cold War efforts to set ourselves apart from the communist Soviet Union.

After some inquiries, I learned that the General Assembly mandated that all public schools in Arlington, and across Virginia, put up that sign. (The words are based on the advice in Proverbs 3:5 — “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”)

Some may think this isn’t a big issue. Kids may not pay much attention to symbols and tend to adapt to just about anything. But imagine for a moment being a 10 year-old raised Unitarian or Buddhist, or having atheist or agnostic parents, and you see that powerful, patriotic symbol every day when you come to school just before you recite the Pledge of Allegiance. How welcome would that sign make you feel?

We know what most kids want more than anything – to fit in. We want our professional learning communities to be welcoming places where ALL children can maximize their talents and become productive members of society.

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by ARLnow.com — May 15, 2015 at 6:00 pm 1,456 0

Sam's Corner in ClarendonThe weekend is here, which for many Arlington residents will mean a trip to Taste of Arlington in Ballston.

The event will take place from noon to 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, on Wilson Blvd, in front of Ballston Common Mall. Several road closures are planned in conjunction with the event.

A number of road closures in the Ballston area are also planned for the Girls on the Run 5K, which will take place Sunday morning, before Taste of Arlington.

If you wanted a taste of Arlington in 2010, the year of our launch, one place to get it was at the idiosyncratic eatery called Sam’s Corner, in Clarendon. This past week was the fifth anniversary of an incident very loyal ARLnow readers may recall.

Here’s how we described it in a comment a year after it happened, in response to readers wanting us to “research” the rarely-open restaurant:

An ARLnow.com writer walked into Sam’s Corner with the intention of doing a totally innocuous profile of what seems like a unique, older local business. For reasons unknown, the owner started asking strange questions of the writer, then rudely kicked the writer out and threatened to sue if anything was written about him or the restaurant. It was bizarre enough that we reported it to the police. Police told us that no crime had been committed. Seeing as how we don’t have the power or desire to “investigate” a private business, that episode and this comment will be the first and last time we devote any sort of time to Sam’s Corner — save the occasional wayfinding reference, as seen in this article.

Breaking our promise, we said goodbye to Sam’s Corner in 2012.

Today, it is with great regret that we are saying goodbye to Ethan Rothstein, our primary ARLnow reporter since July 1, 2013. Ethan will be joining the team at Bisnow, where he will report on commercial real estate and development. The ARLnow team wishes him well.

We plan to introduce our new ARLnow reporter to you just after Memorial Day.

With that, feel free to discuss any local topics of interest in the comment section.

by Harrison Godfrey — May 14, 2015 at 2:00 pm 1,528 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Harrison GodfreyGrowing up in Arlington, my friends’ parents were entrepreneurs, artists, public servants, homemakers, lawyers, and service workers. In the past 30 years, I have seen Arlington change, largely for the better.

But as property values rise I wonder: “If I could buy in Arlington (that’s a big if) and raise a family here, will my children grow up in an economically diverse and largely middle class community?”

Continuing on our present course, I fear not.

Over the past several months I’ve written here and elsewhere about millennials and housing affordability in Arlington. How do we make home ownership attainable for young people? Our answer will affect Arlington’s prosperity and culture for decades to come.

Some millennials will earn well above the area median income (AMI) and have ample choices in Arlington. Others will earn well below AMI. For them, ownership here may be out of reach. To its credit, Arlington works hard to provide affordable rental housing.

The challenge is what to do for the majority of millennials who fall in between.

When my mother settled here, artists, budding entrepreneurs, and public servants could afford Arlington. With the median sale price of a “home” (detached dwellings, townhouses, and condos) now above $550,000, many find Arlington out of reach.

If ownership is unattainable to this group, they will move to more affordable urban centers. We will lose civic and artistic contributors and a significant share of a creative class that is critical to growing and diversifying our economy. Left behind will be a stratified county increasingly reliant on federal largesse.

In July 2012, Arlington initiated an Affordable Housing study. The resulting March 2015 draft plan found ownership housing affordable to families earning below 120 percent AMI “will continue to be undersupplied without public policies to stimulate and incentivize the production of lower cost ownership housing.”

In response, planners have suggested increasing the supply of affordable housing, raising density, and studying options to “enable greater flexibility in housing type.” This is promising. But to more quickly match today’s demand with existing supply, the County should also look to innovative financing options.

Upfront costs are a significant barrier to homeownership. Having graduated into a sluggish economy and saddled with student debt, few millennials have $110,000 in cash (20 percent of a median-price home).

That’s why “shared-equity” programs show significant promise.

In a shared-equity program, first-time homebuyers can get a deferred-payment, no-interest loan to partially cover down payment and closing costs. The buyer can defer payments until they sell. They then repay the original loan plus a proportionate share of the home’s net appreciation. This turns renters into buyers, helping them to build equity while putting down roots in the community. The fund is self-sustaining, refreshed with repayments and appreciation.

Arlington already has a similar program: the Moderate Income Purchase Assistance Program (MIPAP). But in FY 2014, just 14 MIPAP loans were made, up from three in the prior two years.

That’s partly because the maximum purchase price of an eligible home is $362,790, far less than the Arlington median, although the maximum allowed loan — $90,000 — and the minimum contribution required of the buyer — 1 percent — are quite helpful.

To improve MIPAP, we need to increase funding for homeownership programs. Funds to support MIPAP shouldn’t come out of support for low-income families, but rather reflect a strong commitment to both affordable housing and housing affordability.

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by Mark Kelly — May 14, 2015 at 1:15 pm 945 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyThis Saturday’s Arlington County Board Agenda will take more money from your pockets, raise your debt unnecessarily, and spend irresponsibly.

Parking is About to Get More Expensive

If the County Manager’s proposal on parking meters is adopted, Arlington hopes to add over $1.6 million annually to its coffers. The rates have not been changed since 2011, so it is not unreasonable to give them another look.

The more troubling part of the proposal is the effort to extend the hours from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The extended hours certainly do not create a welcoming environment for evening patrons to our retail and dining establishments.

Yes, people will ultimately feed the meters after 6:00 p.m., but is the extra $675,000 per year really necessary in a county already flush with cash?

Bonds to be Issued

There is a strong argument to be made that many of the items the County Board issues bonds for should be funded out of the regular budget. Parks and facilities maintenance, HVAC and roof repairs for our schools, and non-construction improvements to the Water Pollution Control plant should not be funded in the same way as infrastructure like school construction or replacing aging sewer lines.

Maintenance should be treated as regular and ongoing operating costs that the county and School Boards should budget for each year rather than borrowing money to pay for it. If you build a school or put a park in service, you should expect to have to pay to maintain it rather than adding to our already hefty debt service burden.

The county noted the bonds will not be issued until we get our annual bond ratings check-up that reaffirms our highest possible debt rating. Yes, that is in order to get us the lowest possible interest rates — a good thing when borrowing money.

But, the county often touts this rating like it is a measure of fiscal discipline. It’s not. It is a measure of the County’s ability to raise taxes on us to pay off the debt.

New ART Bus Facility

According to the County’s press release, building our own bus facility will save Arlington $57,000 per year. It will cost $14.2 million to build it.

In other words, in about 250 years this bus facility will have paid for itself. That’s one very generous definition of “long range planning.”

No one should argue with a straight face that this is some sort of cost saving measure. Sure, the funds to pay for the facility are not all at the expense of local taxpayers as Virginia is kicking in state funding. However, Arlington taxpayers are paying for that, too.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — May 14, 2015 at 12:30 pm 1,253 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 RousselotWill some Arlington students get their entire Arlington Public Schools education in trailer-based classrooms?

It’s a startling prospect for our “world class” community. But, that possibility became clearer in the latest plan proposed by APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy:

Murphy’s plan… calls for 27 new relocatables for elementary schools in South Arlington by fall 2020. By fall 2019, Murphy plans for middle schools around the county to add 44 new trailers. In five years, that would bring the total number of trailers for middle schools and South Arlington elementary schools to 120.

It’s been evident for some time that without financially feasible new plans to build new school facilities on specific sites, APS will ramp up its reliance on “relocatable classrooms” (aka trailers) in perpetuity. The numerous students for whom there are no classrooms already occupy 124 trailers.

It’s highly unlikely that the completion of the Community Facilities Study magically will eliminate the need for many dozens of trailers. Arlington probably won’t be able to retain its AAA/AAA bond rating over the next 10 years if it tries to finance the construction of all the new school facilities needed to provide enough seats — and ditch the trailers.

That still will be true even if APS does the right thing by substantially revising its Architectural Digest philosophy of new school design and construction. Furthermore, it remains to be seen if repurposing county-owned properties for schools will relieve enough congestion at an affordable price.

The County Board stubbornly has refused to take the steps needed to require developers like Vornado to pay their fair share of the cost of the new school facilities needed because of new development. And our highly educated community is unlikely to put up with a massive increase in class size as a means of trailer elimination.

Stop pretending trailers are temporary

APS needs to stop pretending that these “learning cottages” are temporary. Instead, APS must candidly admit that trailers are permanent.

Studies have shown that trailers can raise serious environmental and health concerns. These concerns are serious enough when trailers are temporary, but are greater when they are permanent. Health and environmental risks are magnified when trailers are used on the same site at which new school facilities or renovations are being constructed.

Launch a search for new models

APS should switch to new, more environmentally friendly and energy-efficient trailers. One possible model is the one used by the Waldorf School in Charlottesville. Many other examples are available here.

CONCLUSION

APS should:

  • admit that its relocatable classrooms are a permanent feature, and
  • appoint a joint citizen-APS task force to identify new models to fill APS’ growing capacity gaps.

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.

by Peter Rousselot — May 7, 2015 at 1:45 pm 715 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 RousselotHow can Arlington improve its business environment?

In a recent column, I highlighted steps the Arlington County government should take to encourage a civic minded business community. That column explained why Arlington needs to improve its business environment in order to meet its public facilities challenges.

This column continues that discussion. It is based on input from a business owner who moved a business from Arlington to Fairfax. Among this owner’s key observations are these:

  • How does a business benefit from locating in Arlington, or remaining in Arlington? My checks were quickly cashed, but I never received a message of appreciation for remaining in Arlington nor congratulations for growing a business year-after-year. What can the County offer businesses? Perhaps appreciation is the most affordable thing. How about a pleasant phone call from time to time, an email that connects them with a county business liaison if they have questions, an offer to discuss business futures with them, or inviting them to seminars and gatherings?  It’s a conversation worth having.
  • The County knows how much in gross receipts taxes and BPOL taxes every firm pays. They can easily tell which ones are increasingly paying more in taxes. They could then connect and engage. Applications for occupancy permits for new office space could provide yet another opportunity to make meaningful contact with businesses that are growing and staying in the County.
  • When I called the Arlington Economic Development office to ask for help finding new office space for my growing company, I was told to contact a local commercial real estate agent. When I left a year later, no one ever called me about the motivations for my decision. So market retention is at least equally important to economic development because you don’t have to fill empty office space if the business stays in Arlington. The County needs to implement changes based on what they’ve learned from exit surveys — if they actually do them systematically (or even retroactively).
  • If more than 50 percent of all new businesses in Virginia are woman-owned, perhaps understanding the psychology of women business owners would make a difference in how the county does business with them. This is an opportunity for the county to offer customized help to small, woman and minority owned businesses.
  • It’s widely acknowledged that small businesses are the backbone of the economy, and yet in Arlington it seems that only large businesses and federal leases get the attention.  While we’ve listened to the sad story and witnessed the very real impacts of BRAC relocations, small businesses are being ignored.  Small businesses pay their share of taxes, too.  Why don’t they get meaningful attention or assistance?

Arlington: are you listening?

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.

by Garrett McGuire — May 7, 2015 at 1:00 pm 699 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Garrett McGuireMetro is one of Arlington’s most valuable assets and a key to the county’s continued progress. At a time of high commercial vacancy rates, it is increasingly important to our economic future that Metro is a reliable, high-quality transit system.

However, as anyone who rides Metro knows, the system remains in need of repair, upgrades, and additional capacity even after improvements made through several years of more intensive maintenance.

That is why the decision by the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee to slash WMATA maintenance funding from $150 million to $75 million is extremely troubling for our county and region.

If this is a political statement or an attempt to send a message of disapproval to WMATA, such action should be viewed with outrage by residents of Arlington and Northern Virginia.

Now is not the time for political gamesmanship and punitive measures. Rather, we need a concerted effort to preserve Metro’s strengths, fix Metro’s problems, and recognize Metro’s major contribution to our region’s transportation and economic goals.

If the goal of reducing Metro funding is to ensure WMATA “is making significant progress in eliminating the material weaknesses, significant deficiencies, and minor control deficiencies” as the bill also requires, cutting the funding to achieve these goals in counterproductive. The regional economy and safety of individuals should not be so jeopardized.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which authorized $1.5 billion for WMATA over ten years — or $150 million a year – is a federal commitment that should be honored. It is money that was dedicated seven years ago to improve Metro services, specifically the safety of passengers. Additionally, in response to this federal commitment, Virginia, Maryland and the District agreed to match the federal funding with $50 million each in additional annual funding. This bipartisan support for Metro was and is a vitally important demonstration of federal and state governments working together to advance a key transportation priority.

Any attempt to reduce the federal share of this money undermines critical maintenance and safety improvements that need to be completed. It is imperative that the Republican leadership of this subcommittee, the full committee and the House of Representatives heed the bipartisan advice of Congressional leaders in Virginia (including our own Congressman, Don Beyer), Maryland and the District.

With Metro’s Momentum Plan on the horizon, the Potomac Yard Metrorail Station process underway, revitalization of Crystal City and Pentagon City, additions along the R-B Corridor, I-66 improvements with a focus on transit proposed, and new apartment buildings popping up along Metro corridors that will increase ridership, we need to ensure that WMATA is actively improving maintenance, enhancing capacity, and ensuring the safety of its riders. This requires that the federal government remain a full partner with the Commonwealth and our neighboring jurisdictions in funding Metro.

The WMATA Board also has an opportunity to address operations and management issues in hiring a new General Manager and CEO. This person needs to be a stalwart of efficiency and maximizing Metro’s upgrades with available funding to prepare Metro for future realities. They must also be given a chance to succeed through the full allocation of federal funds.

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by Mark Kelly — May 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm 2,262 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAround 2000, I sat down to eat in the now-closed Taco Bell on Wilson Boulevard. A few minutes later, one of my fellow patrons sprinted out of the restaurant as his car was being hoisted into the air by a tow truck. Later we learned an “unmarked spotter” had identified his car for towing because he had first walked to the ATM next door to get cash before ordering his Taco Bell dinner.

The car owner showed the tow truck driver his Taco Bell receipt, but was told it did not matter because he had left the premises. Once the tow truck was called, the driver explained, it was his job was to tow the car. So, the car owner stood directly in front of the tow truck refusing to move for more than 15 minutes until the tow truck eventually dropped the car and left.

Needless to say, reports of “predatory towing” are not a new problem in Arlington. But, with social media and some cases recently going viral, the practices have been thrust into the spotlight. Almost certainly, today a video of the car owner standing defiantly in front of the tow truck at Taco Bell would have been posted to YouTube or Facebook and retweeted on Twitter.

Enter County Board Member Jay Fisette, who this week said he would look at changes to these towing practices. Specifically, he said it may be in order to have the property owner sign off on each tow.

While towing companies will oppose any changes to the regulations that impact their business model, Fisette’s approach is worthy of consideration. It protects a private property owner’s unquestioned rights to control their parking spaces while ensuring that same property owner cannot simply blame a tow on a third party spotter who gets it wrong.

As Fisette noted, it is not in a retail property owner’s best interest to get it wrong when it comes to towing. There is a good chance the car owner never went back to that Taco Bell after the parking incident. Why patronize a business that appears to care more about its parking spaces than its customers?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — May 6, 2015 at 9:25 am 3,677 0

Quincy Street propertyArlington County announced yesterday that it has agreed to buy a six-acre light industrial property on N. Quincy Street, across from Washington-Lee High School.

In announcing the $30 million deal, County Board Chair Mary Hynes said it was “a rare opportunity for the county to acquire a significant piece of property in North Arlington… at a time when our community is struggling to find public land to accommodate our many facilities’ needs.”

There are a number of priorities for public property in Arlington that have been discussed lately. Of those, which two do you think are the most important priorities for the N. Quincy Street property?

by Mark Kelly — April 30, 2015 at 1:45 pm 932 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyOur education record in Arlington is a pretty good one. According to the Washington Post, we spend the most per pupil in the region, and second place is not close. Our average teacher salary ranks first. Our average class size is below the regional average. And, our average SAT scores rank third.

Arlington is proud to do it again next year for $18,558. That is the cost per pupil trumpeted by both the Arlington School Board and Arlington County Board as they passed the FY 2016 budgets.

Except $21,814 is the actual total cost per pupil. You arrive at the more accurate figure when you divide the projected enrollment of 25,626 by the total spending of $555.9 million.

$3,256 is the difference when you subtract what we are told our cost per pupil is with what it actually costs taxpayers for every child in the public schools. $83.4 million is the total amount of spending reflected by the difference of the reported per pupil cost and the actual per pupil cost.

Yes, Arlington reports the numbers this way because that’s the way everyone else does it — in accordance with some bureaucratically defined formula. Whether everyone else does it that way or not, should not be the point. The average person who takes a county-generated press releases at face value almost certainly believes it represents the total cost per pupil.

Would Arlingtonians demand more spending accountability from the School Board based on the use of a higher number? That is an open question.

There are certainly questions being raised about when and under what conditions every APS student will receive a notebook or laptop. Who gets them and when? How much will it cost? What safeguards will be in place? How will we equip teachers to carry out the digital learning plans?

What of the rest of the APS budget? Class sizes will remain the same and staff will receive raises. Washington-Lee, which rolled in trailers when it opened because it was not built big enough initially, will soon undergo a costly expansion.

And, the School Board allocated $67,000 to hire temporary help to communicate better with the community. Certainly, it is not on the same scale as the PR campaign employed by the County Board to try and save the trolley. But, shouldn’t the School Board already be able to communicate the rationale for the policies they vote to implement?

Bottom line, we could probably better spend the $67,000 in the classroom.

Arlingtonians certainly support their schools and deserve maximum transparency and accountability in return.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — April 30, 2015 at 1:00 pm 961 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 RousselotRegrettably, Virginia has earned the title of the “East Coast capital of predatory lending.” Fortunately, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is working to fix that.

What’s the problem?

According to Virginia’s State Corporation Commission:

[I]n recent years, Virginia-based payday lenders have annually made more than 440,000 loans totaling more than $170 million to more than 137,000 borrowers. The borrowers take out an average of more than three loans a year to stay afloat at an average annual interest rate of 289 percent. Virginia-based car title lenders also issued more than $206 million in loans in 2013, up from $180 million in 2012, to more than 150,000 borrowers, with an average APR of 216 percent. More than 17,000 borrowers had their car repossessed and more than 13,000 had their car sold.

Predatory lenders have flocked to Virginia because surrounding jurisdictions, such as Maryland and DC, have enacted stricter laws, including laws that cap interest rates. Virginia has 20 licensed payday lending companies and 28 licensed motor vehicle title lending companies. Virginia also has open-end lenders that are effectively unregulated.

Right here in Arlington there are branches of the car title lender Title Max at 5265 Lee Highway and 3045 Columbia Pike (“If you are in need of some fast cash”). For pay day loans, you can choose from several Arlington options, including ACE Cash Express at 311 N. Glebe Road or Advance America at 2514 Columbia Pike (“It Only Takes 10 minutes. Apply Now”).

What’s the solution?

Attorney General Herring has committed to focus on a wide range of strategies, including:

  • Enforcement Actions, using his office to crack down on lenders violating existing laws.
  • Consumer Education, providing assistance to create financial literacy courses and credit mentoring guidelines to community organizations.
  • Partnerships with the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB), other states, advocacy groups like ProgressVA, and other stakeholders to take action against lenders operating across state lines.
  • New Virginia Legislation, based on what’s working in other states, what new enforcement authority is needed by the Virginia Attorney General’s office, and what loopholes lenders have found in current Virginia law.
  • Alternative Lending Solutions, exploring ways to help consumers gain access to affordable, non-predatory low-dollar loans, and reducing the number of individuals and households that cannot borrow or cannot borrow enough through traditional banks.

Attorney General Herring’s partnership with the CFPB is particularly promising. The CFPB is the federal agency whose creation was championed by now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren after the 2008 financial collapse. The CFPB is considering new federal rules to curb predatory lending.

CONCLUSION

Congratulations to Attorney General Mark Herring for his progressive leadership in targeting predatory lending in Virginia.

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.

by Progressive Voice — April 30, 2015 at 12:15 pm 877 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com. This week’s column is written by Dr. Marie Price.

Marie PriceIn our nation’s history, we have achieved great success because we have encouraged educational achievement and because of the determination, grit, innovation, and entrepreneurship of our immigrants. Those who have come to our country from elsewhere, and their daughters and sons, have been strong contributors to our economic, national security and cultural preeminence.

Through the Dream Project, which matches educational success and immigrant youth who aspire to the achievements of earlier immigrants, Arlington is making a significant contribution to our community and our nation’s future.

The Dream Project began five years ago in Arlington as a community-based non-profit organization bringing together undocumented families, their high school and college-aged children, educators, and donors. It began with parents who could not bear to see their children’s academic achievements undermined by barriers of being undocumented. Today, the Project directly supports 70 promising immigrant youth through a mentoring program for high school seniors, offering scholarships, and promoting advocacy.

Dream Scholars from our program have nurtured student-led DREAMer groups at various Virginia colleges including the Mason Dreamers at George Mason University. By becoming part of a supportive community and sharing their stories of struggle, the Dreamers have become powerful voices for change in Virginia. As one Dream Scholar describes, “I got involved with the Dream Project and realized there are more Dreamers in Virginia. Then I got more involved with advocacy and I went to California and realized that this is a national issue.”

It is estimated that up to 25,000 Virginians may be eligible for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which the Obama Administration initiated in June 2012. The game changer in Virginia was Attorney General Mark Herring’s ruling verifying the legality of in-state tuition for DACA holders resident in Virginia. By September 2014, over 80 percent of our 48 scholarship recipients were eligible for in-state tuition, reducing their college costs by two-thirds.

DACA is not legal permanent residence and must be renewed every two years at the cost of $465. Students with DACA are able to work, obtain a driver’s license, open a bank account and receive in-state tuition.

A distinguishing feature of the Dream Project is its mentoring and collaboration with students and families. Creating a network that feels family-like has been shown to be especially effective for undocumented college students. Through mentoring and the renewable Dream Project scholarships, the success rate of our Dream Scholars is excellent. More than 90 percent of our students are currently enrolled in university classes and our first students will graduate in May 2015.

Dream Project students come from 15 different Northern Virginia high schools and are currently attending 16 different colleges and universities. Although 90 percent of the current Dream Scholars are from Latin America (especially Bolivia, El Salvador, Peru, and Colombia), Dream Project students also come from South Korea, Mongolia, Ethiopia, and the Philippines, reflecting Northern Virginia’s diversity.

Critical to the Dream Project’s success has been its ability to partner with key institutions such as public schools, community colleges, state universities, and religious organizations. From the beginning, Arlington Public Schools opened its doors by signing a strategic partnership with the Dream Project to provide in-kind support in the form of meeting space for after-school activities.

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by ARLnow.com — April 29, 2015 at 9:45 am 1,673 0

Polling place in Arlington (file photo)Over the weekend, a straw poll was conducted at a birthday party and fundraiser for County Board member Libby Garvey (D).

The results, which reflect the preferences of Garvey’s supporters, broke heavily for “crowd favorite” Christian Dorsey.

With the exception of the bottom two of the field, the results are an inverse of first quarter fundraising figures.

The straw poll results are:

  • Christian Dorsey — 43
  • Peter Fallon — 15
  • Katie Cristol — 15
  • Andrew Schneider — 8
  • James Lander — 4
  • Bruce Wiljanen — 3

A primary will be held in the race June 9. With just over a month left, ARLnow is conducting its own unscientific poll about reader preferences for the six Democratic candidates.

If you are a likely voter, which of the candidates do you prefer? Given the two available seats, pick two candidates.

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