Arlington Public Schools will receive a transfer from the county of $432.2 million, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and other sources.
Responding to parent criticism, the School Board reversed many of the cuts proposed by Superintendent Patrick Murphy. While the school system is growing thanks to increased school enrollment, Murphy sought to offset some of the expense of that growth through cuts totaling $7.3 million and the equivalent of about 75 full-time positions.
The School Board moved more than $5.6 million in reserves for 2016 into expenditures for this coming year, adding the equivalent of 70 full-time positions to Murphy’s proposed budget. Among the proposed cuts nixed by the Board:
- Merging the Langston High School continuation program with Arlington Mill High School, located at the Arlington Career Center ($1.6 million and 19 positions)
- Eliminating library assistants at elementary schools ($1.1 million in the budget and 21 positions)
- Reduction of professional development funding from the Twice Exceptional program, for gifted special education students ($75,000 and a part-time position)
- Cutting seven of the 12 assistants from APS’ secondary school autism program (see below)
School Board Chair Abby Raphael was the only School Board member to vote against reinstating the autism assistants. The seven positions were restored with $271,859 in one-time funding.
“It’s our job to set priorities,” she said during the meeting last Thursday night. “I think as we go through that process, it’s also our job… to decide if we’re not going to have cost savings and we’re going to add things, then what are we going to cut? Primarily how we’ve funded [these programs] is taking funds from our FY 2016 reserve.”
Raphael said the reserve in the approved budget is less than $300,000 for FY 2016. In addition to restoring the autism programs, the School Board approved ending early Wednesday release and implementing FLES programs (foreign language in elementary schools) at Oakridge, Nottingham, and Tuckahoe elementary schools.
The School Board decided to quietly eliminate the superintendent’s 1:1 Initiative, which received considerable attention when it was announced this winter. The initiative would have provided APS second-graders with Apple iPads and sixth-graders with Google Chromebooks, with plans to broaden the program to other grades in future years. The initiative was slated to cost $200,000 next year, and it was part of Murphy’s broader literacy initiative, which was slashed by $600,000 in the School Board’s adopted budget.
FY 2015 will also see a decrease in capital projects funding, with the $6.9 million allotted for 2015 coming in 13.5 percent less than 2014′s $8 million in funding.
Though the budget will push Arlington’s per pupil spending to $19,244, the highest of any suburban D.C. school system, some teachers are saying — privately — that it doesn’t deliver on APS’ pledge to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and $500 one-time bonus for APS employees, but no salary step increase.
“They are not giving teachers the step increases that they promise when you are hired,” one anonymous tipster told ARLnow.com. “They are giving us cost of living increases, sometimes, which help older teachers, but not younger teachers. They keep implementing new ideas and spending loads of money [on] stuff that gives teachers more work, but not actually increasing the pay to even it out.”
Kanninen, who narrowly lost to School Board member James Lander in last year’s Democratic endorsement caucus, defeated Nancy Van Doren by a similar margin this year, with 1,812 votes to Van Doren’s 1,794. Before an instant runoff was conducted, and Greeley’s votes were distributed to voters’ “second choice” candidates, the margin was a bit wider: Kanninen received 1,549 votes, Van Doren 1,329 and Greeley received 839.
Kanninen campaigned for reduced standardized testing among Arlington Public Schools students and said she was “uncomfortable” when Arlington was announced as the top-spending school system in the state. She also said that one way to solve APS’ growing capacity issue was flexible spending during a debate among the three candidates last month.
Kanninen, an economist and children’s book author, said through working on advisory boards for both the School Board and County Board over the years, as well as with children in Arlington and D.C., she has the experience needed to be a productive Board member.
“Our schools are important to all of us, whether we are parents, teachers, homeowners, or citizens who want to live in a community that values education,” she wrote in her candidate essay for ARLnow.com this month. “Collectively, we have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community.”
Kanninen told ARLnow.com in an email Monday afternoon that she enjoyed “the many lively and informative discussions” she’s had with the community during what she called “a vigorous campaign that highlighted Arlingtonians’ deep commitment to making our schools the best they can be.”
Van Doren announced after the caucus results were counted that she would be throwing her support behind Kanninen for the general election in November, for which Kanninen now becomes the odds-on favorite. She will run to fill the seat left vacant by retiring School Board member Sally Baird.
“I wholeheartedly support Barbara in the upcoming general election as she faces the challenges in our school system,” Van Doren said in a press release. “Our community needs to work together to face the challenge of continuing to improve educational outcomes while working with the county to find space for our growing student population.”
Greeley, in an email to ARLnow.com, also congratulated Kanninen, saying the campaign was a chance to have “a great discussion about the future of our schools.”
“Barbara ran a strong campaign,” Greeley wrote. “She had the experience and organization from her campaign last year. Last year’s campaign also provided a degree of name recognition that ultimately proved decisive this year. I look forward to working with her to address the important issues our school system faces, most notably our looming capacity crisis.”
Flickr pool photo by wolfkann
The sites — Rosslyn Highlands Park/Fire Station 10 (1559 Wilson Blvd); Courthouse Square and Plaza; land adjacent to Lee Gardens at the intersection of Fairfax Drive and Arlington Blvd; and Gables North Rolfe Street (1307 N. Rolfe Street) — were introduced by County Manager Barbara Donnellan yesterday when she presented her proposed 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan to the County Board.
The sites are already in the planning process, Donnellan told the Board, and the county is exploring their potential for affordable housing during said process. Providing more affordable housing has long been a priority for many of the Board’s elected members.
In addition, Donnellan identified three sites as potential places for new school construction. Those locations include Wilson School, which had already been earmarked for a potential new school, Thomas Jefferson Middle School and the Arlington Career Center/Fenwick Center site at 816 S. Walter Reed Drive.
“Affordable housing and schools are two of our County’s highest priorities, and the County Board has emphasized its commitment to the concept of using Public Land for Public Good,” Donnellan said in a press release. “We need to do a lot more analysis, but this is a good start for finding ways to use public land to achieve important community goals.”
Four other sites are considered “Tier 2″ potential places for affordable housing — they are not in the CIP for redevelopment but they have been identified as areas where affordable housing development could be feasible. Those sites are Lubber Run Park, which one interfaith community group has also identified as having potential for affordable housing; Fire Station 8 on Lee Highway; land adjacent to Jennie Dean Park on Four Mile Run near Shirlington; and the Edison Complex, adjacent to Virginia Hospital Center.
The county and Arlington Public Schools analyzed all 678 parcels of publicly-owned land in the county to develop the final list of 11 sites. Donnellan is recommending each of the sites be considered for development within the next 10 years.
Photo via Google Maps
The capacity crunch at Arlington Public Schools and the need for establishing better coordination with county officials were two of the major topics addressed by the three candidates for School Board at a forum last month.
The candidates who are seeking the Democratic School Board endorsement — Barbara Kanninen, Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley — politely agreed on many topics, including the urgency of the school system’s overcrowding issues, but some differences did emerge during the two-hour forum at the Arlington Mill Community Center on Columbia Pike.
Kanninen, for instance, was outspoken in her belief that there’s too much emphasis on standardized testing in Arlington Public Schools. She said students shouldn’t be spending an entire week of instructional time preparing for Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests.
“I believe every child in Arlington deserves a bright future,” she said. “They are more than their test scores… we should de-emphasize test prep.”
Greeley agreed, to an extent, saying that he believes the tests are not “an accurate reflection” of many students’ skills and abilities.
“It’s pretty clear that the pendulum for standardized testing has swung too far,” he said.
Van Doren emphasized her volunteer work for students with special needs, including six years on APS’ Special Education Advisory Committee. She said the school system is doing a better job serving students with special needs, but more must be done. Greeley echoed that sentiment.
“If there’s any area where we as a school system must improve, it’s how we treat our students with special needs,” he said.
Asked about the rising per pupil cost at Arlington Public Schools — it will rise past $19,000 next school year, the highest of any school system in the region — Van Doren said most of APS’ costs go to teacher salaries.
“I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to cut that,” she said.
Kanninen said she was “uncomfortable” when it was announced that Arlington was the top-spending school system. She said she believes that it’s possible to cut “hidden” costs in the budget, and that savings can be found by reducing technology and test preparation spending. With the current budget, Kanninen argued, there’s no excuse for poor performance in any Arlington schools.
“We’re funding our school system at a level where we should be the best,” she said. Kanninen, Van Doren and Greeley all expressed concern about student performance issues that have come to light at Drew Model Elementary.
Greeley had some strong words about APS’ allegedly top-down approach to community communication. He said that school staff is told not to attend community forum and discouraged to communicate with the public outside of official channels.
“The notion that we don’t want staff to talk to the community is part of the broader philosophical issue that we need to address,” he said.
According to the county’s Department of Environmental Services, APS was issued its first stormwater permit by the state last month, after more stringent stormwater regulations were passed by the Virginia General Assembly in July 2013. The permit disallows all charity car washes on school property.
Washington-Lee, Yorktown and Wakefield High Schools notified their teams and clubs this week that they were no longer allowed to conduct such fundraisers.
“There is an important underlying reason why most types of car washing are not allowed under state and federal stormwater regulations,” said DES spokeswoman Shannon Whalen McDaniel. ”The chlorinated water, detergents, petroleum products, and other pollutants that get washed into the storm drain system are carried into our local streams, the Potomac River and ultimately, to the Chesapeake Bay. As a result, there are educational and environmental benefits that come with finding new and environmentally friendly ways to raise money for extracurricular activities.”
However, some coaches are concerned that, particularly for the more expensive sports, the ban could have negative repercussions for the athletes.
“This could have a large impact on fundraising by sports teams/boosters/school clubs in need of dollars to support the school programs,” one Washington-Lee coach, who preferred to remain anonymous, told ARLnow.com. “I am not sure how many teams are affected by this new rule. I know that my team will be, since every little bit helps deal with the expense of our sport as we try to support the kids.”
A few years ago, the ban may have had a greater impact. But Wakefield Activities Director Noel Deskins said none of the schools teams or clubs have held car wash fundraisers there for years. Instead, they opt for bake sales, pizza sales and other money-raising endeavors.
“I think it’ll be a little easier here adjusting to the new policy,” she said.
The new regulations passed by the state last year prohibit smaller public entities, like APS, from conducting car washes, according to DES Watershed Programs Manager Jason Papacosma. All car washes that aren’t for personal use require a specific permit or written determination from the state, even charity car washes held on private property.
“Working with APS, we plan to continue educate entities looking to hold such events about the rules and environmental impacts,” Papacosma said, “and work to suggest alternatives that can raise funds and also protect the environment and comply with the environmental protection rules we are both required to follow.”
Flickr pool photo by Christaki
(Updated at 12:00 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is backing off a plan to sell its Wilson School property to a developer. Instead, the school system and the county are exploring the possibility of building a new 1,300-student secondary school on the property.
Located at 1601 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, the Wilson School was built in 1910 and preservationists have been calling for it to be restored rather than torn down. Under a plan approved by the School Board last summer, it was to be demolished to make way for a private mixed-use development with affordable housing, a new fire station and a 1.5 acre park.
Now, according to a press release (after the jump), that plan has been scrapped in favor of retaining the property and perhaps building a new secondary school at the site, to address the school system’s capacity crunch.
The Wilson Boulevard school is envisioned as a brand new secondary school, not a new location for the 624-student H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, currently located in Cherrydale, according to Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick.
U.S. Olympic figure skater Ashley Wagner paid a visit to the children and faculty of Arlington Science Focus Elementary School this afternoon to campaign against underage drinking.
Wagner, sporting the bronze medal she won this year as part of the U.S. figure skating team, told the hundreds who gathered in the school’s gymnasium that after she started training to become a figure skater when she was 5 years old, she vowed to do whatever it took to get to the Olympics.
“When you’re an athlete, your body is a machine,” she said. “You want the ultimate machine, so you want to take care of it. So I made a lot of important decisions. I ate my fruits and veggies, I drank a lot of water and, when the time came, I said no to underage drinking.”
After the crowd of kids answered questions on the basic facts of underage drinking, they got a chance to ask questions of their own. One student asked how old the 22-year-old is –”someone should teach you not to ask a lady that,” she gamely replied before answering question — and another asked how much her medal weighed, which led to Wagner giving the little boy her medal to hold.
“This medal stays in a sock,” she said when asked where she keeps her hardware from Sochi, Russia. “I should probably find a better place for it.”
In addition to students and faculty, attendees at the event included state Sen. Barbara Favola, Del. Patrick Hope and Ralph Blackman, president and CEO of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibly.
The Arlington Police Beneficiary Association is asking Arlington middle- and high-schoolers to design a T-shirt for Police Week in May.
Students are asked to submit designs for the theme “Honoring the Fallen By Remembering Their Sacrifice,” by Friday, April 4 at 3:00 p.m. Designs are asked to be drawn in marker — with no more than four colors — on a sheet of letter paper. The winning designs will be printed for shirts during Police Week, May 11-17.
The grand prize for the contest is $100 gift card, a press release with the winner’s name and school in it and a free T-shirt with the winning design. Each school’s School Resource Officer will be collecting the submissions, which will be printed on the back of black and/or blue shirts.
(Updated at 5:00 p.m.) The standardized test scores for elementary school students in the Nauck neighborhood are slipping well below the county-wide average, and some parents are fed up with the disparity.
Over the past 10 years, the graded program at Drew Model Elementary School has performed at an average of 23 percent below the county’s average in the 3rd-through-5th grade Standards of Learning exams, according to data from Arlington Public Schools’ Department of Planning and Education.
The numbers get worse the older the students get. Third-graders in the graded program — as opposed to Drew’s Montessori program, which takes children from around the county and performs on par with other elementary programs — pass the reading SOL 23.9 percent less frequently than APS average and the math 17.9 percent less frequently. For fifth-graders, that drops to 30.4 percent worse in reading and 23.2 percent worse in math.
The numbers were highlighted during last Thursday’s meeting of the Arlington School Board when Terron Sims, former County Board candidate and co-chair of APS’ Superintendent’s Committee on Eliminating the Achievement Gap, spoke out decrying Drew’s struggles.
“Since the children of the Nauck community have been allowed to attend their neighborhood school, the school has failed them,” Sims said. “For years, Drew parents and administrators bickered over whose program was better, who should occupy Drew. But now, after 10 years of failing our kids, the fighting has stopped, for all those concerned now understand that a drastic change must occur at Drew if we are to save the children from a mediocre education, and thus save them from a mediocre life.”
A group of parents and community members, led by Sims, have formed the Coalition for a New Drew to try to reverse the school’s fortunes. In a press release, the coalition alleges that APS had been releasing Drew’s Montessori SOL statistics over the past few years, but not the results for the students from the graded program as some members have requested.
The statistics cited above were compiled by the Coalition. APS officials confirm the data is pulled from its report from Planning and Education’s presentation to the Arlington Montessori Action Committee.
“The data compiled by the coalition shows there is a stark difference between the educational readiness for most Arlington students and a disproportionate number of SOL-tested Drew Graded students,” Nauck Civic Association Community Affairs Committee chair Portia Clark said in the release. “We know the students at Drew have the desire to learn and we just want them all to succeed.”
Another chart released by the Coalition shows that less than 50 percent of fourth and fifth graders in the Drew graded program are passing any SOL test. The combination of the Montessori and graded programs still makes Drew the worst-performing school in the tests.
The push for change comes at a time when the school is already in administrative flux. Drew’s principal, Jacqueline Smith, resigned earlier this month after being arrested for driving under the influence. Smith has been replaced by interim Theresa Bratt, who had retired from APS last year.
“A new Drew is overdue, and the time is right to fix this instructional problem,” Cathleen Drew, a former Drew PTA president, said in the press release. “As APS looks for ways to solve its capacity problems, it should put instruction first and prioritize solutions that promote both academic and space solutions.”
Photo (top) via Google Maps. Chart (bottom) via Coalition for a New Drew.
Arlington Public School has created a video as part of its effort to recruit new teachers to the burgeoning school system.
To keep up with rising student enrollment and teacher attrition — retirements, etc. — APS hired about 300 new teachers in 2012 and more than 400 new teachers in 2013. School enrollment is projected to increase from 23,316 to 24,153 in the coming school year. Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s new proposed budget calls for 53 new K-12 teacher positions — in addition to new teacher hires to replace those retiring or leaving for other school systems.
To help promote its careers web page, APS created a PSA video (above) with the tag line “Inspire Generation.”
Smith, a 53-year-old Arlington resident, was arrested on the 1100 block of S. Rolfe Street, in the Arlington View neighborhood, around 3:30 a.m. on Friday, March 7. Smith was observed by an officer stopping at a green light, weaving in and out of lanes and almost striking a parked car, according to Arlington County Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck.
The officer pulled Smith over and she subsequently failed a field sobriety test, Sternbeck said. Smith was arrested and taken to the Arlington County Detention Center. Four days after the arrest, Drew Elementary parents were notified that Smith was “retiring.”
“We wanted to let you know that Jackie Smith, Principal of Drew, has informed us that she plans to retire from her position with the Arlington Public Schools for personal reasons,” wrote Arlington Public Schools superintendent Patrick Murphy. “She will be on leave the remainder of this week, and will retire effective March 17. We wish her the best in the future.”
“I have been grateful for my 21 years in Arlington as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal,” Smith said in the letter. “The support I have received through the years from Dr. Murphy, APS administrators, the School Board, and the many dedicated teachers and educational leaders throughout the county has been greatly appreciated. I want to express my best wishes to the Drew Model School staff, students, and community, and I hope for their continued success as they work to provide excellent learning opportunities for our children.”
Asked by ARLnow.com if Smith had been fired, APS spokeswoman Linda Erdos said “that statement is not accurate.” Theresa Bratt, who retired from APS last year, is now serving as interim principal at the school.
Smith’s next court appearance is scheduled for May 19. Court documents indicate that, if convicted, this would be her first DUI.
Photo via APS
The fire broke out near the attendance office, according to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos. It was quickly extinguished, but not before the school’s sprinklers caused some flooding in the hallway.
Students and school personnel were evacuated for about 15-20 chilly minutes. They reentered the school when the fire department gave the all-clear.
“Everyone is okay and the students and staff did a great job responding to the alarm in the way that we have practiced,” Washington-Lee principal Gregg Robertson said in an email to parents. “The APS facilities team are here to help with the clean up. We are thankful for the support of our county agencies.”
Photo courtesy @RobertoClaure
Arlington Public Schools has almost doubled its estimate for how many trees need to be removed to make way for the 12-room addition at Ashlawn Elementary School.
The initial use permit for the addition called for 54 trees to be removed to make room the expansion. After consulting a certified arborist, Arlington Public Schools staff is asking the County Board to approve the removal of 40 additional trees.
Once construction is complete, APS is suggesting planting 224 new trees, up from the 127 that was approved by the County Board last May. The increase is to comply with county policy on replacing trees that are removed for construction, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations John Chadwick told ARLnow.com.
“We’re adding more trees than required in order to be good neighbors and help to screen our property from our neighbors,” Chadwick said.
The revision is necessary because the original use permit was approved before the construction designs were finalized. APS and county staff agreed more trees needed to be removed to make room for stormwater construction, Chadwick said, and the arborist recommended dead and dying trees for removal.
The tree removal at Ashlawn generated some local outrage when the school system started removing trees not included in the use permit. That led to a verbal reprimand from the County Board in January.
“We cannot let this happen again — we cannot allow trees to be chopped down… this is a problem,” board member Walter Tejada said at the time, according to the Sun Gazette.
The use permit amendment that’s being considered on Saturday only addresses the trees, Chadwick said. The “loop road” dropoff from N. Manchester Street, which had been a source of controversy last spring, is not being recommended for change.
Williamsburg Boulevard is closed between N. Somerset Street and N. Rochester Street due to a school bus that hit a utility pole.
It appears that the top of the bus clipped the pole, which is located directly adjacent to the street. The accident snapped the top of the pole. Dominion Power is responding to the scene to repair the pole and the power lines.
No children were on the Arlington Public Schools bus at the time and no injuries have been reported. No word yet on whether the driver will be cited for the accident.
Williamsburg Boulevard is expected to remain closed for part of the day while Dominion crews repair the lines. Some local power outages are also expected.
Frigid temperatures have officials worried about a potential refreeze and hazardous road conditions following today’s snow storm.
It’s at least the 6th day off for Arlington students this school year. All meetings, extracurricular activities, events and adult education classes are also canceled.
There will be no classes Tuesday, but school offices will be open, on a two-hour delay. Essential employees should report to work as scheduled, the school system said Monday evening.