The results were tallied in APS’ biennial community survey, released this month. The survey, conducted by a District-based polling company, randomly selected respondents and polled 1,680 staff, 1,160 students, 602 parents and 600 Arlington County residents without a direct connection to the school system.
The company says its results had a “95 percent confidence score.”
While 12 percent of teachers and staff gave Murphy a failing grade and 20 percent graded him at a “D,” teachers were generally satisfied with other aspects of their positions. Seventy-two percent gave their school administrators or department’s assistant superintendent an “A” or “B” grade, 85 percent gave high marks for their school and 91 percent gave high marks for their colleagues. Two-thirds of teachers also said they were satisfied with the compensation they receive.
Students also gave the school system generally high marks — 78 percent gave their school either an “A” or “B,” with 70 percent of teachers earning those high marks from students — but 18 percent of students agreed with the statement that they felt bullied in school. Eighteen percent of students also responded that they disagree that “School staff stops bullying in school whenever they see it.”
Parents were even more positive about their school experience, with 94 percent giving high marks to their child’s school and 90 percent giving high marks to APS as a whole. What’s more, 81 percent of parents are satisfied with their involvement in the School Board’s decision-making process — APS teachers and staff are, by contrast, 55 percent satisfied with their inclusion in the School Board’s process.
Other items of note from the survey results:
- 8 percent of students report that they spend too little of their after school time on homework.
- 64 percent of students said they don’t like “to wake up early for school,” the top response in the survey asking about local students dislike. Fifty percent said they dislike doing homework, and 42 percent said they are “bored at school” (students were allowed multiple answers).
- 55 percent of parents gave Murphy an “A” or “B” grade, but 37 percent said they “don’t know” how they feel about Murphy’s job performance
- 93 percent of parents agreed that “my child likes to go to school.” The top response in the “I like to go to school because” question for students was “I like to see my friends,” with 83 percent, followed by “it will help me in the future” at 75 percent.
In a presentation to the School Board this morning, APS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick outlined a plan for shrinking the “walk zones” around schools — areas where children are ineligible for bus service because of their proximity to the school — to a half-mile around elementary school, three-quarters of a mile around middle schools and a mile around high schools.
(Currently, the walk zone is within a mile of elementary schools and 1.5 miles of middle and high schools.)
The proposal was suggested by APS’ Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee (MMTSSSC), but is not being recommended for approval by the School Board yet. Instead, Chadwick laid out what the zones would change from the current setup: 3,694 students currently ineligible for bus service would become eligible, a 25 percent increase over current walk zones.
Middle schools would see the biggest increase in eligible ridership, with 50 percent more students able to ride the bus, including a 78 percent increase at Kenmore Middle School. Elementary schools would see a 16 percent increase in eligible riders, and high schools a 30 percent increase.
How much the substantial increase in eligible riders would cost, if the plan were implemented, is more complicated. Currently, only 54 percent of eligible elementary school students, 70 percent of middle schoolers and 56 percent of high schoolers actually take the bus, APS says.
“[The] actual cost of walk zone reduction,” the presentation reads, “is contingent on how many additional students actually ride the bus, which is impossible to determine without actual experience.”
APS estimates that if the changes result in 70 percent ridership, it will cost APS $3.76 million for 26 new buses, plus drivers and attendants, but that doesn’t account for gas, insurance, maintenance and other costs. If ridership hits 80 percent, that would mean 30 new buses and an estimated $4.35 million in additional costs.
With a $16.1 million transportation budget, bussing currently costs APS $1,100 per eligible student. However, because of the current low ridership rate, APS says “bus utilization may be increased without incurring substantial additional costs.”
To acquire better data, Superintendent Patrick Murphy has recommended instituting several smaller changes during the 2014-2015 school year, but because the School Board approved new Director of Transportation David McRae this morning, APS staff doesn’t anticipate any changes taking effect before students return for classes in September.
Among the proposed changes is distributing new ID cards to all students, installing GPS on every bus, upgrading APS’ routing software and providing “School Pool” carpooling software for parents. ID cards, while proposed as part of the transportation plan, wouldn’t just be used for buses.
“It will be used by the Transportation Department to know who is on the buses,” Assistant Superintendent of School and Community Relations Linda Erdos told ARLnow.com, “and at some point in the future it could be expanded to be used for lunch, library use, and we’ve even discussed with the county the possibility of students being able to use their ID card for access to other county services, although that is a very preliminary discussion and no firm decisions for expanded use have been made.”
The larger walk zone discussion, under the current plan, wouldn’t come before the Board for approval until the FY 2017 budget process. Before then, Murphy recommends selectively increasing “ridership on buses within current walk zones before considering walk zone reductions.” Murphy hopes the data gathered from his proposed changes will allow APS to plan for growth in current eligible ridership.
Erdos said the recommendations may go before the School Board “later in the year” to allow McRae, who starts Sept. 1, to “participate in the final decision and process.”
The Arlington School Board, in a surprise move not included in the board’s scheduled agenda, approved a new four year contract for Murphy this morning by a vote of 4-1.
All five School Board members praised Murphy’s job performance, in spite of criticism of his tenure from some parents who view his efforts to keep the APS budget in line — while dealing with an expanding student population — as arbitrary and poorly-communicated. There were no public speakers to weigh in on the contract renewal at the morning meeting.
“The trajectory is very much in the direction it should be going,” retiring Board member Sally Baird said of Murphy’s impact on the school system. She called Murphy and his leadership team the “core of the success of the system.”
Baird and other Board members said stability in leadership is a key component to the success of school systems.
“My objection on this isn’t based on merit or performance, it’s based on process,” he said. “I would gladly consider a contract extension in the future. We are stewards of the taxpayer dollar… the expectation is that this would be done a year from now. I believe that granting an extension in an off year, without prior discussion… doesn’t align to our commitment to transparency.”
Board member Abby Raphael, however, argued that the Board typically does not hear public comment on personnel decisions.
“This is the most important obligation of the School Board,” she said. “This is a decision that the School Board is elected to make. It’s the right thing to do.”
Murphy’s previous contract was approved in 2012. His annual salary for the 2013-2014 school year was $218,375.
The new contract will expire at the end of the 2018 school year. It provides Murphy an annual salary of $223,242.50.
Multiple tipsters — including at least one high school teacher and a person commenting on our story about the recently-passed Arlington Public Schools budget – have contacted ARLnow.com this week claiming the administration has purchased hundreds of Microsoft Surface tablets, including 400 specifically for Yorktown High School. The School Board’s adopted budget pulled the $200,000 Superintendent Patrick Murphy had proposed to accelerate APS’ plan to give every student in the school system a tablet to take home by 2017.
However, APS said they have only purchased 10 tablets in the past month, one for the Instructional Technology Coordinators in 10 different schools. The total purchase price was roughly $8,600, according to purchase documents provided to ARLnow.com.
Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Relations Linda Erdos told ARLnow.com that, while the school system has continued to allocate funding for technology purchases, the idea that it has conducted a mass purchase of tablets for students is “false and misleading information.”
Raj Adusumilli, APS assistant superintendent for information services, said the purchase of 10 tablets was used with operational funds already in the system’s FY 2014 budget.
“We are not aware of any school that has purchased tablets for all ninth graders — this includes Yorktown. We have confirmed this with the school principal and with Information Services,” Adusumilli said in an email. “The current Strategic Plan sets a target of having personalized devices for all students by 2017. In support of this goal, the Department of Information Services has conducted and continues to do pilots in all of our schools to find the best options to support instruction and classroom needs. These pilots are designed for individual schools based on the school goals and instructional needs. APS will continue to work towards achieving this Strategic Plan goal.”
Erdos said the $200,000 that was pulled from the budget was to accelerate the strategic plan as part of a broader early literacy initiative. Although APS says it did not conduct the mass tablet purchase, they are determined to acquire thousands of tablets in the coming years.
“At no time has the School Board ever made any decision about changing its six-year Strategic Plan for 2011-17,” Erdos said. “The Strategic Plan was developed after a 12-month process involving the APS community stakeholders. The Board takes that plan seriously and would not change the plan without a separate community engagement process that is separate from the annual budget deliberations.”
Photo (bottom) via Microsoft
Morroy, O’Leary Join Call for Streetcar Referendum — The two elected officials directly responsible for managing the county’s money, Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy and Treasurer Frank O’Leary, have joined Del. Patrick Hope and County Board candidate Alan Howze in support of a referendum on the Columbia Pike streetcar project. (Hope’s fellow congressional candidate, Mark Levine, has also called for a referendum.) “This issue has become too divisive to fester any longer,” Morroy said in a press release. [Blue Virginia]
‘Film Processing Kiosk’ to Be Removed from Zoning – In a sign of the times, “film processing kiosk” is being removed from Arlington County’s zoning classifications. The designation was determined to be “archaic,” a victim of the rapid rise of digital photography. [InsideNova]
Ball-Sellers House Tours — The Arlington Historical Society is giving tours of the historic Ball-Sellers house every Saturday through October. The log cabin was built in 1750 and is Arlington County’s oldest house. [Washington Post]
Murphy Named ‘Superintendent of the Year’ — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy has been named Superintendent of the Year by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents. The group lauded Murphy’s “efforts to address school-crowding issues, improve graduation rates and address disparity in student achievement.” [InsideNova]
Follow-up: RaceDots Now Shipping – It’s been a long five months for Jason Berry and his company, RaceDots, since the company was profiled in our “Startup Monday” feature in December. Berry has spent long hours since then arranging for his product’s manufacture and shipment from China to the U.S. As of this week, the RaceDots — strong magnets used to hold race bibs in place instead of safety pins — finally arrived in his Harrisonburg warehouse. “The story behind getting the product here was an absolute struggle but we overcame the hurdles and are officially in business selling product from stock,” Berry told ARLnow.com. Berry tells the story on the company’s blog. [RaceDots]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
The $539.4 million budget — a 3.1 percent year-over-year increase — also provides a cost-of-living salary increase for APS teachers, launches a new early literacy initiative and funds an APS-provided take-home iPad for every 2nd grader and a Google Chromebook for every 6th grader.
APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board Thursday night. It’s the beginning of a process that will culminate with the School Board’s final budget adoption on May 8.
Murphy’s budget includes $7.3 million in cuts and “efficiencies.” APS expects to save $1.6 million by merging the Langston High School continuation program into Arlington Mill High School (located at the Arlington Career Center) and by reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22.
“I understand the commitment of the community to provide this option for adults,” Murphy said. “But in these challenging budget times… one of my concerns remain core services for children who are school-aged and on the K-12 continuum.”
Murphy also proposes saving $800,000 via cuts to special education assistants and $1.1 million by eliminating library assistants from elementary schools. Another $200,000 will be saved by reducing non-mandated elementary school field trips.
Because the school system is growing, Murphy says APS employees impacted by the cuts will be transferred to other roles instead of being laid off.
APS expects school enrollment to increase by about 800 students in the coming school year, from 23,316 to 24,153. That will cost APS $9.8 million for the hiring of teachers, acquisition of textbooks and materials, and for relocatable classrooms, furniture and technology. Another $300,000 will go to hiring four additional bus drivers and a route coordinator. Murphy’s budget keeps class sizes the same, but the cost per pupil will increase, from $18,678 to $19,244.
The proposed budget includes the beginning of a number of significant initiatives.
Starting in the fall, every 2nd grader will be issued an Apple iPad and every 6th grader will be issued a Google Chromebook. All 2,150 iPads and 1,650 Chromebooks will be internet-accessible at school (via WiFi) and students will be able to take them home. Officials say the computers will be leased and the cost in FY 2015 will be $200,000. Dubbed the 1:1 Initiative, APS expects to gradually expand the program to every grade level, with 3rd and 7th grades next in line.
Fiscal Year 2015 will be the first year of a three-year goal to eliminate early release days and to spread foreign language programs (FLES) to all elementary schools. Two of the seven schools with early release days will have the early release eliminated under Murphy’s budget, thus providing additional instruction time for FLES. It’s yet to be determined which two schools will be chosen.
A third major initiative in Murphy’s budget is early literacy. Murphy hopes to boost reading levels for those in two grade categories — PreK-2 and 3-6 — via investments in technology, summer reading programs and professional development for teachers.
“I feel a real responsibility that we need to build in that area,” Murphy said of the literacy initiative.
Orange, Blue and Yellow Line Work This Weekend — Getting anywhere on Metro this weekend will take longer than usual. Trains will run every 20 minutes on the Orange, Blue and Yellow lines due to track work. The Yellow Line, meanwhile, will end at Mt. Vernon Square rather than Fort Totten. The changes will be in effect from 10:00 p.m. Friday through system closing on Sunday. [WMATA]
Superintendent Hopes to Avoid Class Size Increase — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy says he’ll try to avoid an increase in class sizes in the school system’s Fiscal Year 2015 budget. It’s unclear how Murphy plans to close a projected $8.8 million budget gap. [Sun Gazette]
Howze Wins Teacher Endorsement — Arlington County Board hopeful Alan Howze has won the endorsement of the Arlington Education Association Political Action Committee. The political arm of the teachers’ association said Howze “recognizes that investing in our schools is one of the very best ways to make our community even stronger.”
Brink Proposes Under 15 Tanning Salon Ban — Arlington’s Del. Bob Brink (D) has proposed legislation that would ban children under the age of 15 from Virginia tanning salons and would require teens ages 15 to 17 to obtain written parental permission to use such facilities. [Sun Gazette]
Ballston Burger Shop Renames RG III Burger — The RG III burger at Big Buns in Ballston has received an alternate name, “The Kirk Cousins.” The $15 burger contains a beef, a chicken and a turkey patty. Dan Steinberg writes: “No word on what the sandwich will be called next fall.” [DC Sports Bog]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
The Arlington County Taxpayers Association doesn’t usually have nice things to say about the county’s spending habits. But on at least one metric the group has some plaudits to share.
The county’s Department of Management and Finance recently released its Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2013, which ended June 30, 2013. In broad terms it looks like county spending is continuing its inexorable rise: “Total expenditures increased from $745.8 million in FY 2004 to $1,122 million in FY 2013, 50.5%, an annual average of 5.1%,” ACTA reported.
Also on the rise: the county’s indebtedness, which now stands at $4,082 per capital for general bonded debt, a 62 percent increase from FY 2004.
But operational efficiency — as determined by looking at the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) county and school employees per 1,000 residents or students — is improving at the same time. For county government, there were 18.68 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2004 and only 17.05 FTE per 1,000 residents in FY 2013. Arlington Public Schools were a similar story, with 186.02 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2004, and 177.79 FTEs per 1,000 students in 2013.
The increased efficiency is made possible by increases in the county population and the student body, but ACTA credits County Manager Barbara Donnellan and APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy with running a tight ship, so to speak.
“While there is still too much local government in Arlington County, and too high taxes, the numbers above show some numbers such as the efficiency ones are moving in the right direction,” ACTA wrote in a blog post. “Kudos to the Manager and staff for keeping the FY 2012 to FY 2013 increase in total expenditures to less than the inflation rate. Also to the Manager, especially, and the Superintendent for increasing operational efficiency.”
Donnellan and Murphy will present their proposed FY 2015 budgets in the first quarter of 2014.
Arlington Mill Community Center Modifications Approved — The County Board approved modifications to the Arlington Mill Community Center project that are being called safety and utility upgrades. The county will use already approved project reserve funds for improvements such as parking garage security doors, an in-building wireless system antenna to aid first responder communication and a revised design for the intersection at 9th Street S. and Arlington Mill Drive. As reported last week, a Pan American Bakery and Café will open in the structure. Construction is on track to finish by early August, with a ribbon cutting ceremony on September 28. [Arlington County]
Arlington Receives Funding to Fight Childhood Obesity — The Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth has granted more than $36,000 to the county to fight childhood obesity and promote healthy living. This is the second year of a two-year grant. The money will help continue to fund community gardens, healthy school vending machine options and active recess. [Arlington County]
APS Hiring Hundreds of Staff Members – More than 260 full time and part time employees have been hired ahead of the Arlington Public Schools 2013-2014 year. That’s about two-thirds of the more than 350 open slots APS aims to fill. Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy expects to be fully staffed by the beginning of the school year. [Sun Gazette]
Alexandria Approves BRT Station Design — Alexandria approved the design for its Route 1 Bus Rapid Transitway stations. The seven stations include real-time bus arrival displays and will cost about $200,000 apiece. Construction of the bus dedicated lanes in the middle of Route 1 began in July 2012 and is expected to finish late this year, with the line becoming operational early next year. The BRT will eventually cover a five mile stretch to connect the Braddock Road Metro station with the Pentagon City metro station. The Arlington portion of the line is expected to open in summer or fall of 2014. [Del Ray Patch]
Father of Deceased Skateboarder Found Dead — Friends and family of 18-year-old John Malvar — a Washington-Lee High School student who died following a skateboarding accident — were supposed to gather at a memorial service for the teen on Saturday, but his father never showed up. Several friends visited the man’s apartment and had a maintenance man unlock the door, where they found George Malvar dead on his bed of natural causes. After learning of George Malvar’s death, the friends and family decided to continue on with the memorial service for his son. [Washington Post]
Snake Causes Power Outage — More than 10,000 Arlington and Alexandria residents experienced a power outage on Saturday night and Dominion says it was caused by a snake. The reptile apparently slithered into some electrical equipment and knocked out electricity at a substation on Four Mile Run. Power was restored by Sunday morning. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Christopher Skillman
The raise boosts his salary to $218,375 in the 2013-2014 school year, up from $209,976 last year.
The increase was in line with raises given to all “exempt and professional staff” in the system, and per the terms of his contract, school officials said. Last year Murphy, who joined Arlington Public Schools in 2009, signed a new contract that will keep him at the school system through June 30, 2016.
APS spokeswoman Linda Erdos said there are about 300 to 400 staff that fall into the “exempt and professional staff” category, including assistant superintendents, principals, counselors and much of the work force at the district office.
In the School Board’s budget for Fiscal Year 2014 approved this spring, teachers were slated to receive performance-based raises. The Board increased Murphy’s proposed budget, reinstating some of his recommended cuts. Murphy raised caution about next year’s budget amid decreasing property values, telling the Board, “we’re very concerned for FY 2015.”
The recommended changes are detailed in a memo that also lists two alternative plans. The intent is to ease school overcrowding and to assign students to a new elementary school on the Williamsburg Middle School campus. The shuffle will affect students at seven elementary schools in North Arlington — Ashlawn, Glebe, Jamestown, McKinley, Nottingham, Taylor and Tuckahoe.
The major changes will involve moving around 900 students in the following ways:
- Reassign 67 students from McKinley to Ashlawn
- Reassign 56 students from Glebe to McKinley
- Reassign 164 students from Jamestown to the new school at Williamsburg
- Reassign 71 students from Taylor to Jamestown
- Reassign 347 students from Nottigham to the new school at Williamsburg
- Reassign 146 students from Tuckahoe to Nottingham
- Reassign 49 students from Taylor to the new school at Williamsburg
“We went through a process of community meetings starting this past fall. There was lots of input and lots of options,” said APS Transition Facilities Planning Consultant Meg Tuccillo. “The superintendent examined the input he received, and the need to address capacity, and determined that this recommendation met that need.”
The plan also includes recommendations for grandfathering that would also need to be approved by the School Board. The ideas especially apply to fifth graders so they don’t have to move for their final year of elementary school. Siblings of fifth graders also would not have to move immediately. The grandfathering recommendations are as follows:
- Rising fifth graders and concurrently enrolled younger siblings (grades K-4 as of June 2015) may choose to remain at their current school for the 2015-16 school year only. Transportation will continue for current bus riders for that year.
- A student attending either Immersion School, in grades K-4 as of June 2015, who resides in a planning unit being moved from one Immersion School group to another Immersion School group, may remain at their current Immersion School through fifth grade with transportation provided by APS.
- A student attending Arlington Science Focus in grades K-4 as of June 2015, who resides in a planning unit being moved to the New Elementary School #1, may remain at ASFS through fifth grade with transportation provided by APS.
APS reports that its staff has participated in more than 40 community meetings since the beginning of the boundary changing process. Two additional public meetings will take place in April, and the School Board is scheduled to give a final vote on May 16. If approved at that time, the changes will go into effect for the 2015-2016 school year. An exception would be made for students reassigned to McKinley. Those students would be delayed a year and instead would switch schools in time for the 2016-2017 school year, when McKinley’s expansion is expected to be completed.
(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy’s recommended FY 2014 budget would keep class sizes steady, would add new school buses and would provide for merit pay increases for school employees, despite a $23.5 million budget shortfall.
Murphy formally unveiled his budget Thursday night at a budget work session with the School Board.
To help close the gap, Murphy’s budget takes advantage of $20.2 million worth of surplus and reserve funds from previous years, and “efficiencies” in custodial staffing, the teen parenting program and gifted teachers, among other programs.
In all, $411.1 million of the $520.4 million budget comes from county tax revenue. Aside from the $20.2 million “carry forward” and $17.6 million in fees, the rest — about 13.3 percent of the budget — comes from federal and state sources.
The budget allocates an additional $10 million in staffing, materials and facilities costs for the nearly 1,000 additional students expected to be enrolled next year. That includes $1.9 million for new trailer classrooms.
The budget also provides $7.2 million for merit-based raises for teachers and other employees. Of that, about $446,000 will come from the state, under a plan to supposedly provide 2 percent raises for Virginia teachers. Of those staff members receiving raises, the increase in pay will average about 3 percent, APS said in a budget briefing for the media.
By maintaining the current class size levels while accounting for the rapid enrollment growth, Murphy says the budget fulfills the school system’s goal of putting students first.
“This budget is a prudent and targeted effort to maintain APS quality and the education that our community values,” Murphy said in a statement. “This budget firmly commits to our students by maintaining current class sizes and to our staff by including a compensation increase, the first step increase in two years.”
APS plans to purchase and staff 6 additional school buses this year. That should prevent another round of controversial bus service adjustment.
The budget also provides for a full-time residency verification specialist. Murphy also proposed the position last year, but it did not make it into the School Board’s final budget. Currently, APS only employs a part-time residency verification specialist for the entire 22,613 student school system.
Murphy said a full-time residency verification specialist could help identify students who are attending Arlington Public Schools but whose parents don’t live here.
“With the growing enrollment we have, we need to make sure we’re serving our kids here in Arlington,” he said. “I think there’s a concern that people are attracted to Arlington Public Schools. We need to monitor that.”
Other additions in this year’s budget include a new security coordinator, technology upgrades, athletic trainer who specialize in concussion management, and dropout prevention coordinators.
The “efficiencies and reductions” — including cuts in custodians, high school gifted teachers, the teen parenting program, and administration — will eliminate 61 positions and save $7.8 million. With the school system continuing to grow and hire — some 300 teachers were hired last year — Murphy says those impacted by the cuts will be reassigned elsewhere in APS, not laid off.
With Murphy’s proposed budget, the per-pupil cost in Arlington will rise from $18,675 to $18,709, although that could drop to $18,405 if the School Board elects not to use one if its reserve funds.
The School Board will adopt the final FY 2014 budget on May 2. Between now and then, APS will hold a number of budget work session and public hearings.
The task of re-working the Arlington Public Schools boundaries is in the home stretch. The options have been whittled down to two, and tomorrow night (Wednesday) the public can get a detailed look at the final recommendations.
The School Board approved the creation of new boundaries to accommodate a new elementary school on the Williamsburg site and to help ease crowding at seven other elementary schools: Ashlawn, Glebe, Jamestown, McKinley, Nottingham, Taylor and Tuckahoe. Since the announcement last year, there have been numerous meetings and the public has submitted suggestions and concerns about the changes.
The two final options will be revealed to the community tomorrow at a 7:00 p.m. meeting at Williamsburg Middle School. The maps are largely similar to each other, with the main differences appearing along the Glebe/Taylor border and along the Glebe/McKinley border.
After the public gets a chance to discuss the choices at Wednesday’s meeting, staff will present their recommendations to APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy. He will review the options and decide which plan(s) he will present to the School Board at its meeting March 21.
In a letter to parents and in an online video (above), Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy is trying to answer questions and quell outrage among some parents in response to changes to the school system’s busing policies.
Just weeks before the start of school, APS sent letters to parents notifying them that the school system would begin enforcing rules, already in place, that reserve bus transportation for students a mile or more away from their elementary school and 1.5 miles or more away from their middle or high school. Students outside the so-called “walk zones” have been issued passes that allow them to board a bus at a specific bus stop; those inside the walk zones must walk, bike or otherwise find their own transportation to school.
The goal was to increase the efficiency, on-time performance and safety of the bus system by knowing which students will board the bus at which time and place. The changes also made it possible for Arlington to absorb nearly 1,000 new students this year without having to buy additional buses or hire additional drivers.
But hundreds of parents have protested against the changes by signing an online petition or joining a Facebook group called “Arlington Parents for Safe Transportation.” Many of those parents say their children were previously eligible for bus transportation, but were not issued passes this year. They argue that forcing their children to walk to school — sometimes over busy roads — risks their safety.
In his letter, Dr. Murphy said the changes actually improve student safety.
“The primary focus of this transition has been to ensure the safety of our students,” he said. “This means we need to know who is on the bus, and to ensure that our buses are not overcrowded, especially in the face of our growing enrollment needs. We also need to focus on improving on-time service to and from schools. This new system will also ensure that we avoid having too many or too few students assigned to a bus.”
Dr. Murphy struck an apologetic tone when responding to complaints that the changes were made too close to the new school year, which starts on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
“I regret the confusion some families have experienced and want to assure you that we are working to address and respond quickly to the many questions and concerns that have been raised,” Dr. Murphy wrote. “I recognize that notifying you recently of specific changes for your child’s eligibility for the bus service has been disruptive to some families.”
Approximately 14,000 students are eligible for bus transportation this year, while about 9,000 are within their school’s walk zone, according to APS. The letter revealed that a recalculation of distances to schools has prompted APS to eliminate 12 bus stops, affecting about 250 students. (There are 1,783 bus stops across the county.)
Dr. Murphy said some mistakes were made, resulting in bus passes not being issued to some students outside the walk zones. Those mistakes are being corrected, he said, via an ongoing appeals process.
Power Outage Update — As of 8:30 a.m., there were 14,860 Dominion customers still without power in Arlington. That’s down from 27,586 outages as of 9:30 yesterday morning.
911 Now Accessible By Cell Phone — Arlington County says its 911 system is now properly receiving calls from cell phones. Problems were reported with the system yesterday afternoon.
Cancel Special Events on the Fourth? — Citing power outages and a dodgy 911 system, Arlington Office of Emergency Management Director Jack Brown says he’s not sure it’s the best idea for Arlington to host events for the Fourth of July tomorrow. He told the Washington Post yesterday: “I’m questioning having a special event during an emergency.” [Washington Post]
School Board Renews Murphy’s Contract — Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy had his contract renewed at Monday morning’s School Board meeting. The contract calls for Dr. Murphy to stay with the school system until the end of the 2015-2016 school year. He’ll be paid an annual salary of $209,976. [Washington Post]
Community Pools Busy — The indoor pools at Yorktown, Wakefield and Washington-Lee high schools were all busy this weekend, in the wake of Friday’s storms. [Sun Gazette]