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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | July 11, 2014 at 9:45 am | 1,143 views | No Comments

Columbia Pike is flooded by a downpour / heavy rain

Caucus Date Set for Treasurer, School Board — Arlington Democrats will hold a caucus the evening of Monday, Aug. 4 to determine the party’s nominees in the special elections to replace Treasurer Frank O’Leary and School Board member Noah Simon. The caucus will be held from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. [InsideNova]

Comeback for Crumbs? — The Crumbs store in Clarendon and across the country closed this week, but could a comeback for the cupcake company be imminent? A group of investors is planning to provide financing for the bankrupt Crumbs Bakeshop Inc., and that could revive some of the company’s stores. [Washington Business Journal]

Clarendon Art Festival to Return — The “Arlington Festival of the Arts” will return for a second year in Clarendon. The art festival is scheduled to take over part of N. Highland Street for two days on the weekend of Saturday, Sept. 20. [ArtFestival.com]

Last Day for Cheaper Tickets to ARLive — After today, tickets to the upcoming ARLive Startup Smackdown will increase from $15 to $20. The event — which is being held after work on Tuesday, July 22 — will pit about 20 Arlington-based startups against each other in a bid to collect the biggest “investment” from attendees, who will be given play money to dole out to their favorites. Beer, wine and food are included in the price of admission. [nVite]

Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | July 2, 2014 at 11:45 am | 1,651 views | No Comments

Aerial view of apartment buildings in Courthouse (Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian)

Fallon, Baker Out; Omara, Schneider In for 48th – The list of contenders in the race to replace the retiring Del. Bob Brink (D-48) continues to change. Peter Fallon, mentioned as a possible candidate, says he will not run. Steve Baker, who threw his hat in the ring for a few hours, is no longer running. Young Democrats of America President Atima Omara, meanwhile, is running, as is Yorktown Civic Association President Andrew Schneider. At last count, there are six Democrats and no Republicans in the race.

Endorsements in 48th District Race — Candidates for the 48th District special electoin are starting to tout high-profile local endorsements. Del. Patrick Hope and former Va. lieutenant governor candidate Aneesh Chopra have endorsed Rip Sullivan. Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Mary Hynes, Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos have endorsed Paul Holland. In Arlington, a firehouse Democratic primary in the race will be held on Sunday.

Hazmat Scare at TJ Middle School — There was a hazardous materials scare at Thomas Jefferson Middle School yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon. According to an Arlington fire department spokeswoman, the family of a former school employee who passed away brought a box of art supplies to the school as a donation. A school staff member sorting through the donation opened a bag, smelled a strong odor and began to feel sick. Arlington’s hazmat team arrived and determined that the bag contained a chemical used for gold plating. A cleanup crew was brought in to dispose of the chemical and the employee was transported to the hospital in stable condition.

STEM School Proposed – During a discussion about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, the Arlington School Board began talking about the possibility of opening a new STEM-focused middle school or high school. Such a facility could potentially compete with Fairfax County’s Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a magnet school attended by a number of Arlington students. [InsideNova]

New Va. Laws Take Effect – A number of new laws in Virginia took effect Tuesday. Among them: the abolition of a $64 tax on hybrid vehicles, a law requiring fewer Standards of Learning tests for grades 3-8, and a law that requires motorists to maintain more space between their vehicles and bicyclists. [Reston Now]

Flickr pool photo by Alex Erkiletian

APS Studying Major Expansion of Bus Service

by Ethan Rothstein | July 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm | 1,454 views | No Comments

Arlington County school buses(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools has begun exploring whether to expand school bus service to additional students throughout the county in the coming years.

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.

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14Among 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.”

APS Superintendent’s Contract Renewed in Surprise Move

by ARLnow.com | July 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 2,722 views | No Comments

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy presenting his proposed FY 2013 budget in February 2012(Updated at 2:00 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy is set to spend the next four years at the helm of the growing school system.

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.

Newly-elected School Board Chair James Lander cast the dissenting vote. He said the off-cycle contract renewal (Murphy’s current contract is not up until 2016) could set a bad precedent.

“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.

UPDATED: Noah Simon Resigns from School Board

by ARLnow.com | July 1, 2014 at 10:45 am | 4,381 views | No Comments

School Board member Noah Simon is sworn in in 2013 (photo via Facebook)(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) Noah Simon is resigning from the Arlington School Board.

Simon announced his resignation, effective Aug. 1, at this morning’s school board meeting. He said he was resigning to spend more time with his two children, following the death of his wife, Kedron, on Dec. 30.

“Simply put, I’m doing this because the board work has made me a part-time father,” a visibly sad Simon said in a statement at the end of the meeting. “The last 6 months have been particularly difficult. I’m a broken man emotionally and physically.”

Simon said he hopes the timing of his resignation will allow the special election to replace him to take place on the same day as the general election this fall, thus saving taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. Simon was elected to the school board in 2012 as a Democrat-endorsed candidate, and is serving a term that was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2016.

“I feel badly that I cannot fulfill my entire commitment to those voters,” he said. “I want to thank the Arlington parents and the Arlington community at large for teaching me as much as I can learn about Arlington. This is not a decision I wanted to make. It’s a decision I needed to make.”

A former Capitol Hill staffer, Simon has a son and daughter who attend Arlington Science Focus School, according to his official APS bio.

In May, Simon decried the state of civil discourse on school issues in Arlington, after parents upset at a budget proposal said that school board members “don’t care about children with special needs.”

The Jamestown Elementary School PTA issued the following statement about Simon’s resignation:

Noah Simon has been an exceptional public servant. He has listened and he has led. He has learned and taught, We have been very fortunate to have his time and ideas and tremendous devotion to all our children while he served on the School Board. He has helped make Arlington schools better today, and set good things in motion for the future. We will miss him greatly.

Nancy Van Doren, who was unsuccessful in her attempt to win the Democratic endorsement this spring to replace retiring school board member Sally Baird, hailed Simon’s service and announced that she will seek his seat.

“Noah is a well-respected, well-loved member of the School Board and Arlington community. He has set a very high mark for effective, thoughtful, and compassionate service on behalf of Arlington’s children, families, and educators,” Van Doren said in a press release.

“It is a critical time in our community as we work to manage our growing school system,” she continued. “I am prepared to meet the challenges facing our schools and therefore am announcing today that I will seek election to the seat that Noah is leaving.”

Greg Greeley, who ran against Van Doren this spring and also lost to now-Democratic endorsee Barbara Kanninen, released a statement Tuesday afternoon thanking Simon for his service and supporting Van Doren’s bid to replace him.

“Nancy has my wholehearted support and endorsement,” Greeley said.

Earlier in this morning’s meeting, James Lander was elected chair of the school board from 2014-2015 and Dr. Emma Violand-Sanchez was elected vice chair.

“On behalf of the entire School Board, we want to thank Noah for his tireless and exceptional commitment to the school community, especially in the midst of the grief he and his family have experienced during the past few months,” Lander said following Simon’s announcement. “We understand and support his difficult decision to resign, and were fortunate to have such a passionate and committed colleague on this Board during the time he served.”

Also at the meeting, Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s contract was renewed for four years, in a 4-1 vote. The contract renewal was not on the board’s published agenda.

Photo via Facebook

Elementary PTA Decries APS Waffling on New Middle School

by ARLnow.com | June 25, 2014 at 11:15 am | 2,525 views | No Comments

Arlington County school busesSome north Arlington elementary school parents are asking the County Board to spur the Arlington School Board to action on a new middle school.

The Jamestown Elementary PTA wrote to County Board Chair Jay Fisette on Monday, asking him to work with the School Board on a middle school construction plan as part of the County Board’s 2015-2024 Capital Improvement Plan.

The PTA is peeved that APS waffled in its recently-passed CIP, punting a decision on the location for a new middle school to December and only including planning funds instead of construction funds. It comes at a time when the county’s student population — especially on the elementary level — is burgeoning, thanks to more young families moving to or staying in Arlington to raise their kids.

If a new middle school is not built soon, current kindergarteners could enter middle school in 2020 at a time when Arlington middle schools are over capacity by more than 1,000 students, with most of the overcrowding focused in north Arlington, the PTA said.

“The proposed CIP can only be regarded as an APS plan knowingly to overcrowd Williamsburg and other middle schools in north Arlington and degrade the learning environment for thousands of the county’s middle school students,” Jamestown PTA president Thomas Jensen wrote.

The School Board has eyed both the Wilson School site in Rosslyn and the building that currently houses the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program as possible locations for a new 1,300 seat middle school. Both proposals have met community criticism.

The Wilson School and H-B Woodlawn options are still on the table, according to a school spokesman, and the School Board says it will make a decision no later than Dec. 31. But the PTA wants more decisive action and planning.

“Lack of unanimity about use of the Wilson site is not an adequate reason to allow Williamsburg and other middle schools to become even more overcrowded,” Jensen wrote.

The full letter, after the jump.

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Morning Notes

by ARLnow.com | June 19, 2014 at 9:05 am | 1,865 views | No Comments

Inside a piece of art at the Arlington Arts Center in Virginia Square

Park Activists Taking It Too Far? — Residents pushing for the Arlington School Board to scrap a plan to build a new elementary school on parkland next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School might have taken their effort to preserve parkland too far. Activists reportedly placed “Save TJ Park” signs in the yards of some school board members overnight before the vote on a new Arlington Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan. School-related activism “seems to be getting out of hand,” writes Sun Gazette editor Scott McCaffrey. [InsideNova]

HOV Enforcement Today — Virginia State Police, Arlington County Police and other D.C. area law enforcement agencies are conducting an HOV enforcement campaign today on I-395, I-66 and other local highways. The enforcement took place during the morning rush hour and will take place again during the evening rush hour. [Associated Press]

WETA Takes Ownership of ‘NewsHour’ — Shirlington-based public TV station WETA has taken ownership of the PBS NewsHour from longtime owner MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. The NewsHour is produced at WETA studios in Shirlington, but has lately been struggling to raise funds for its $25-30 million budget. [New York Times]

Plan for New TJ Elementary School Angers Residents

by Ethan Rothstein | June 17, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 3,414 views | No Comments

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) The Arlington School Board adopted its 2015-2014 Capital Improvement Plan last night, and it includes a controversial plan for a new elementary school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson Middle School (125 S. Old Glebe Road).

The School Board will ask the Arlington County Board to approve $106 million bond referendum this November to fund several elementary school capacity projects and an addition to Washington-Lee High School.

More than $50 million of the proposed bond is slated to build either a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson grounds, the School Board’s “preferred plan,” or to construct additions to two South Arlington elementary schools. According to Arlington Public Schools staff, the new school would add 725 seats by September 2018, while the two additions would add 500 seats for the same price in the same timeline.

Separately, the bond request also includes additions to McKinley and Abingdon Elementary Schools.

The new school next to Thomas Jefferson has drawn the ire of some residents. The Sun Gazette reported “angry community members” spoke at length at Monday’s School Board meeting, and a group called the Friends of Thomas Jefferson Park sent out a press release this morning declaring they were “outraged” with the School Board’s decision.

“The School Board voted to take land purchased for parks and pave it for parking lots and new buildings. This was not what voters wanted when they approved park bond issues,” Jim Presswood, a leader of the Friends group, said in the release. ”All versions of the Arlington School Board proposal reduce green space, children’s playgrounds, and fitness options for the public. This reduces outdoor options at the moment our growing country needs them most. Many citizens spoke in opposition to the TJ Park proposal at the meeting and dozens more provided visible support.”

Thomas Jefferson Middle School (photo via APS)The School Board resolved in its CIP to decide which plan to move forward with by January 2015. If the Board decides on the Thomas Jefferson site, it will decide whether to make it a neighborhood school or a choice program by April 31, 2015.

“This doesn’t make a final decision,” School Board Chair Abby Raphael said last night. “It sets in motion a process.”

A month before the School Board decides the fate of Thomas Jefferson Park, it will decide where to put a planned, 1,300-seat secondary school. There is no site currently identified in the bond motion, but APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said a new school at the Wilson School site in western Rosslyn and moving the H-B Woodlawn program are still on the table.

The School Board resolved to make a decision on where the seats will be placed no later than Dec. 31, 2014. It has requested $4 million for planning and design of the new school in the CIP.

Major projects approved for inclusion in the Capital Improvement Plan last night were:

  • A $5 million, 300-seat expansion at Washington-Lee High School, to be completed by September 2016. All funds to come from the 2014 bond referendum.
  • A $20 million, 241-seat expansion at McKinley Elementary School to be completed by September 2016. The School Board is requesting $7.47 million in 2014 bond funds, and the rest will be funded by a $12 million 2012 bond resolution and $633,500 in other construction funds.
  • A $28.75 million, 136-seat expansion at Abingdon Elementary School, to be completed by September 2017. All funds to come from the 2014 bond referendum.
  • A $153.4 million, 1,300-seat expansion at the Arlington Career Center for a secondary school, to be scheduled in three phases, completing for the start of the school years in 2020, 2021 and 2022. No bond funding was requested for 2014.
  • $70.11 million for minor construction/major renovation funding. $10.31 million to be requested in the 2014 bond referendum.

Photo (bottom) via APS

H-B Woodlawn Could Move to Wilson School

by Ethan Rothstein | June 5, 2014 at 10:30 am | 3,395 views | No Comments

Wilson School (photo via Preservation Arlington)Arlington Public Schools has floated the idea of moving the H-B Woodlawn program to the Wilson School property in Rosslyn in the coming years.

APS staff’s presentation during the third work session to discuss the 2015-2024 Capital Improvements Program last week introduced a new, alternative capacity solution, one that would convert H-B Woodlawn’s current building at 4100 N. Vacation Lane to a roughly 750-seat middle school and build a 1,300-seat secondary school at the 1601 Wilson Blvd property to house the H-B Woodlawn program, Stratford program and a 600-seat middle school.

The plan was introduced, according to the presentation, after APS staff received feedback from the School Board and the community.

Another solution proposed for alleviating middle school capacity problems is a $117 million, 1,300-seat middle school at the Wilson School property. Yet another is a combination of $59 million for an addition at the Reed-Westover Building to house H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs; $48 million for an addition to H-B Woodlawn’s current building to house a 1,300 seat middle school; and $9 million to renovate part of the Madison Community Center, a former elementary school, to house the Children’s School daycare program for the children of APS employees.

H-B Woodlawn (via Google Maps)APS staff said in the presentation that there are currently 204 middle school students in the Rosslyn area spread out among five middle schools, with 142 attending Williamsburg Middle School on the western edge of the county. APS also projects 73 more students will come into the APS system from the approved, but not under construction, residential projects in the Rosslyn area, like Central Place and Rosslyn Gateway.

“The CIP process is very fluid, and staff continues to work to refine the proposed plan and options for Board consideration, based on School Board direction and community feedback,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow.com.

If the Wilson School is built as a 1,300-seat middle school, APS staff estimates it would cost $117 million and it would open in 2019 or 2020, depending on bond funding. 

Also being considered as part of the CIP is a needed renovation to Abingdon Elementary School, in the Fairlington area. County staff is pegging the cost of a renovation alone at $14.5 million, while a renovation and addition would cost $28.5 million for 136 additional seats or $33 million for 225 additional seats.

Tonight, APS Facilities and Operations staff will be presenting another revision to the proposed CIP to the School Board, and Bellavia said that could include changes to the proposal to move H-B Woodlawn to Rosslyn.

After tonight’s informational meeting, there will be another CIP work session on June 10 if needed, and the School Board is scheduled to adopt the CIP on June 17 before it goes before the County Board on June 19.

Photos courtesy Preservation Arlington (top) and Google Maps.

APS Denies Rumors of Rogue Tablet Purchase

by Ethan Rothstein | May 30, 2014 at 11:00 am | 2,247 views | No Comments

aps_logoArlington Public Schools staff are denying rumors that allege the school system has already purchased and received hundreds of tablet computers for ninth-grade students.

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.

Microsoft Surface tablet  (photo via Microsoft“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

School Board Passes $539.4 Million Budget

by Ethan Rothstein | May 27, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 2,879 views | No Comments

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14The Arlington School Board adopted its FY 2015 budget last week, increasing its expenditures by 3.13 percent from $523 million last year to $539.4 million this year.

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.”

School Board Chair Abby RaphaelRaphael 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.”

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Kanninen Wins Democratic Nod for School Board

by Ethan Rothstein | May 19, 2014 at 11:00 am | 1,159 views | No Comments

Barbara Kanninen votes for herself in the 2014 School Board Democratic caucus (Flickr pool photo by wolfkann)(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) Barbara Kanninen won the Democratic endorsement for the Arlington School Board this weekend, a narrow victory in the caucus over Nancy Van Doren and Greg Greeley.

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

Candidate Essay: Greg Greeley

by ARLnow.com | May 14, 2014 at 3:30 pm | 966 views | No Comments

Greg Greeley in the 4/22/14 School Board debateLast week we asked the three Arlington School Board candidates who are seeking the Democratic endorsement to write a sub-750 word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the endorsement caucus on May 15 and 17.

Here is the unedited response from Greg Greeley:

Over coffees and breakfasts, and outside the more than 1,000 doors I’ve knocked on since December, I’ve had great conversations about how to make our good schools even better.  It’s been a chance to listen and learn and to share my own vision for our schools.

I’m so grateful to have earned the support of Sally Baird, Karen Darner, Ingrid Morroy, Patrick Hope, Adam Ebbin and so many other community leaders.  The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Past PTA Presidents from across Arlington have endorsed me, as have even the Wakefield High School Young Democrats.  Now I’m asking you for your support.  I hope you will agree that I am the best choice to serve on the Arlington School Board right now.

Why should you vote for me?  Here are four reasons:

I’m the only candidate who lives in South Arlington.  A 27-year resident of Columbia Pike, my son attended Randolph Elementary School, a Title 1 school that has struggled to meet the needs of its diverse learners.  There I worked closely with families, staff, school administration, and neighbors to build a stronger neighborhood school.  My son now attends Jefferson Middle School and will attend Wakefield High School.  With a perspective shaped by my experience in South Arlington schools, I will bring a critical balance to the School Board.   I will work to meet the needs of all school communities.

I’m the only candidate working on our school system’s crowding problem.  As a member of the Arlington Public Schools (APS) Facilities Advisory Council (FAC) and chair of its Projections and Capacity Subcommittee, I have been immersed in the most critical issue facing our school system–our capacity crisis.  Over 7,000 additional students will enter APS in the next decade.  I am already working to ensure that APS provides sufficient resources to meet the needs of all our children in the best way possible.  I am also working to ensure that our solutions are constructive and positive, serving the needs of all students.  The School Board named me an “Honored Citizen” for my service to our public schools on this important issue.

I am the only candidate with more than 25 years of professional leadership experience.  An Air Force veteran and business professional, I have managed budgets and staff and know how to address our community’s needs in fiscally responsible ways.  Working with the County Board (which funds our schools), I will guarantee that we plan smartly, use our resources wisely, and ensure our school system’s current and future needs are met.

Finally, I am the only candidate who is the parent of an English language learner.  As a foster parent and the parent of an English language learner who is now a Dream Project scholar, I know we can do better for our kids with special needs.  We must serve all of our children with special needs, be they students with language and ability needs or students with gifted needs.  I will work to ensure that all of our learners with special needs get the early intervention and consistent, effective support they need to succeed in school and in life.

To learn more, please visit my campaign web site at www.gregreeley.com.  Thank you for your support on May 15th or 17th!

Candidate Essay: Barbara Kanninen

by ARLnow.com | May 14, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 736 views | No Comments

School Board candidate Barbara KanninenLast week we asked the three Arlington School Board candidates who are seeking the Democratic endorsement to write a sub-750 word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the endorsement caucus on May 15 and 17.

Here is the unedited response from Barbara Kanninen:

I am Barbara Kanninen, and I am running for Arlington County School Board because I believe that together we can make Arlington Public Schools the best that they can be.

We’re facing complicated issues that span many dimensions–from budgeting and meeting capacity needs to optimizing classroom instruction–and I bring an equally expansive set of experiences to the table. I have volunteered in schools and worked with children in Arlington and DC for over 20 years.

I have served on School Board and County Board advisory committees, and I’m a professional economist, children’s book author, and long-time Democratic activist. These experiences have given me a deep familiarity with data analysis, hundreds of hours with kids and teachers in classrooms, and a history of working at the community level on grassroots organizing and engagement.

Here are my priorities for our schools:

  • Promote critical thinking over standardized testingI believe our kids spend too much time in class prepping for and taking tests, and teachers have told me they feel this way too. We need to take a hard look at the testing schedule and process to see which tests are essential to classroom learning.
  • Tackle overcrowding with strong leadership and constructive community engagement. As we work to catch up with the growth in our school population, we need to create a long-term plan that considers instructional needs and programs first. We need to work closely with citizens and the County Board to bring a whole-community mindset to the issue, and we must maintain flexibility so that we can adapt, over time, to our changing population and needs.
  • Give teachers the support they deserveTo create an environment in which every child can excel, teachers need support and resources. They also need the flexibility to adjust their teaching approach and pacing to their students’ needs as well as avenues for providing feedback to school principals and county administrators.
  • Support children with mentorsAn adult mentor is a developmental asset that contributes to kids’ problem solving, self-esteem, and achievement. I’d like every student in Arlington to know that there is at least one adult in school who knows them, whom they can go to with problems, and who believes in them, exactly as they are.
  • Continue investing in the arts and strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs.
 We should strengthen STEM skills through, for example, more hands-on science programs in all elementary schools and more accessible STEM programs across all schools, including the Arlington Career Center. At the same time, students need opportunities to express themselves creatively, so we need to give students at all levels access to a variety of art forms.
  • Be budget-minded by prioritizing funding for teachers and classroom learning. In this time of tight budgets, we need to be both disciplined and principled about spending decisions. My number-one principle is the need to focus on the day-to-day classroom experience and teacher-student relationships, so my budget priorities will be teachers and the resources they need.

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. Collectively, we have the energy, the brains, and the will to do great things for our kids and our community. I’m excited about the possibilities, and I would be honored to have your vote.

You can vote on either Thursday, May 15th from 7:00 P.M. to 9:00 P.M. at Drew Model School (3500 23rd Street South) or Saturday, May 17th from 11:00 A.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Washington-Lee High School (1301 North Stafford Street).

Candidate Essay: Nancy Van Doren

by ARLnow.com | May 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 694 views | No Comments

Nancy Van Doren in the 4/22/14 School Board debateLast week we asked the three Arlington School Board candidates who are seeking the Democratic endorsement to write a sub-750 word essay on why our readers should vote for them in the endorsement caucus on May 15 and 17.

Here is the unedited response from Nancy Van Doren:

Arlington Public Schools are at a critical juncture: We must continue to improve educational outcomes for all our students while also finding space for over 700 new students each year. This challenge requires a leader who has a deep understanding of our students and schools. I am that leader. I ask for your support and vote on May 15 and 17 at the Democratic School Board endorsement caucus.

For the last decade I have dedicated myself to working with scores of parents, students, and teachers across Arlington to ensure APS is responsive to individual student needs. I am the only candidate with such extensive experience at the operational level in our schools. I am also the only candidate with hands-on experience at the school and system level in multiple areas, including facilities improvement, transportation, instruction, special education, family engagement and diversity. I am also fluent in Spanish and helped to found the Arlington Latino Network. This experience and knowledge is essential to ensure student, parent and teacher voices are heard at the Board table while critical decisions are made related to facilities and student achievement.

I work collaboratively and build coalitions to fix problems and find solutions. This track record of “getting the job done” is my hallmark. For example, as Jefferson Middle School PTA President, I worked with civic associations, feeder schools, parents, and staff to get Jefferson and its playing fields renovated cost-effectively; I also ensured families from all backgrounds were supported and welcomed in school. I lead the effort and successfully secured Jefferson’s designation as a County-wide school, which enables students from across Arlington to attend the school and receive bus service.

When APS disrupted its transportation system, I stepped up, served on the Multi-Modal Transportation Committee, and worked to issue recommendations to get students safely to school. I lead the successful effort to obtain school bus service to dozens of students along the Columbia Pike Corridor attending Kenmore and Jefferson Middle Schools.

As Chair of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee, I spearheaded an effort to have special needs services evaluated, resulting in a blueprint for improved services and instruction. I also created support groups for families and advocated on their behalf, ensuring students got what they needed to succeed in school.
These concrete accomplishments in leadership positions over the past ten years at the school and county level set me apart from the other candidates.

I am education advocate with extensive business and international experience. I spent 12 years in the private sector with Connecticut National Bank, The Travelers Companies, The Hartford Courant and Newsday. I am fluent in Spanish and lived in Nicaragua and Spain. I spent eight years overseas with my husband Jack Zetkulic, a Foreign Service Officer, and my family living in Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland. For the last decade, my family and I have lived in Ashton Heights and my children attend Jefferson Middle School and W-L High School). I served on and/or Chaired the following Committees in APS: Multi-Modal Student Safety Special Services Committee, Arlington Career Center Parent Advisory Committee, Family and Community Engagement Working Group, Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee, ADHD Task Force, Advisory Council on Instruction, County Council of PTAs, Jefferson Middle School PTA President, Washington-Lee Crew Boosters and Fundraising, Arlington Latino Network (Founding Member), ArlingtonADHD and ArlingtonReading Parent Support Groups (Founder).

To read more about my candidacy, please visit my website www.nancyvandoren.org. I can also be found on Facebook at Nancy Van Doren for School Board.

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