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.”
(Updated at 5:30 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools’ transportation department sent out its annual letter informing parents of their children’s bus status this past week, but many parents saw names of children they didn’t recognize.
That’s because of a processing error that used the wrong last name in letters to children slated to walk to school next year.
One parent, Jim South, said he received a correctly-addressed letter for his third-grade daughter, who rides a courtesy bus. However, his kindergarten-aged daughter, who won’t be taking a courtesy bus, received a letter addressed to a non-existent “Caroline Chacon-Barrientos.”
Another parent, Inger Moran, told ARLnow.com that she received a letter addressed to her daughter that also had an incorrect name, and found out on social media the problem was widespread.
“If they can’t do a simple mail merge then how can they manage bus routes?” Moran said in an email.
APS Assistant Superintendent for School and Community Relations Linda Erdos said the mistake was made in the process of a mail merge for one of four groups of students.
“We discovered this weekend that the mail house merge for the ‘walker’ letters pulled the last name from the wrong field on the data file,” Erdos told ARLnow.com. “This error only occurred with the walker letters — the other letters printed the name correctly.”
As a result, APS Transportation Services had to send out the following correction letter:
Last week we mailed letters to families about Transportation for the 2014-15 school year. We have learned that your student’s last name was not printed correctly and we apologize for the error. However, we wanted to confirm that your student is designated as a walker for next year, and all of the other information in the letter was correct.
If you have questions about transportation services, or if you believe your student may be eligible for courtesy bus service and would like to discuss that option, please contact the Transportation Call Center at 703-228-8670 weekdays between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.
APS Transportation Services
As for reports from some parents that one child in a household was granted courtesy bus transportation while another was designated a walker, Erdos said that courtesy bus service is offered on an as-available basis.
Courtesy busing was first offered in select areas last year for specific students whose parents requested it. It was approved for each student based on whether there was adequate space available on the bus. If the request could be accommodated, the transportation status for the student was changed manually in the student information system from Walker to Courtesy. So it is possible that a family could have requested courtesy service for one student last year and assumed that it would automatically be provided for a younger sibling this year. Unfortunately, that is not the case since staff have to go in and “override” the walker designation.
However, more importantly, this is why we have staff available to help through the Transportation Call Center (703-228-8670). If a student has been miscoded in the student information system, we want to know that now. The Call Center staff will be happy to work with families to resolve any issues so that when the letters with bus stops and times are mailed before the start of school, those inconsistencies will have been resolved.
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.
APS Boosts Bus Service to TJ, Kenmore — In response to criticism from parents, Arlington Public Schools has extended bus service to more than 200 additional Thomas Jefferson Middle School students. It has also added bus service for another 28 Kenmore Middle School students. [Sun Gazette]
TV Station Goes on Pothole Patrol in Arlington — WUSA9 has gone on “pothole patrol” in Arlington and found “a plethora of pits along North Harrison Street.” One of the station’s attempts to report the potholes online apparently didn’t work and the county acknowledged there were “a few bugs in the system.” We’ve previously reported on pothole problems on Columbia Pike and elsewhere in the county. [WUSA9]
Annual 9/11 5K Race Registration Open — Registration is now open for the 13th annual Arlington Police, Fire & Sheriff 9/11 Memorial 5K. The race will take place this year on Sept. 6. [9/11 Memorial 5K]
District Taco to Open in Dupont Circle — Arlington’s own homegrown restaurant chain District Taco will be opening a location at 1919 M Street NW in Dupont Circle. The location is District Taco’s fourth brick-and-mortar restaurant. A fifth location, in Vienna, could be coming later this year. [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Ddimick
Free Burgers for Feds — Because the federal government shut down early this morning, Z-Burger is following through on its offer to serve free burgers for all federal and D.C. workers who have been furloughed. The local burger chain, which has a location at 3325 Wilson Blvd, near Clarendon, says customers must present a government ID to get the free burger.
Task Force Recommends More School Buses — An Arlington Public Schools task force has recommended that the school system’s bus service be expanded, at least for elementary school students. Elementary students should be supervised on their way to school, said the task force, which also said that buses are safer and produce less traffic than cars. [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Startup Raises $100 Million — Arlington-based Evolent Health has raised a whopping $100 million in its latest funding round. The health management company expects to rapidly hire and develop technology in order to meet heavy demand from the hospital industry, spurred on by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. [Washington Business Journal]
Crystal City Showing Resilience — Despite heavy military job losses caused by the Base Closure and Realignment Act, Crystal City is starting to bounce back and find new tenants to fill vacant office space. Property owners are also using the tough times to upgrade or redevelop older buildings. The office vacancy rate in Crystal City stands at 24.2 percent, up from 9.8 percent in 2011. [Washington Post]
Vintage Plane Flies Over Arlington – The photo above was taken from a Ford Tri-Motor, the first mass-produced airliner in the world. Built in the 1920s, the plane has been carefully maintained and, on Saturday, flew over Arlington in a flight organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association. [EAA]
Photo courtesy Mary Dominiak/Experimental Aircraft Association
Instagram Has Video Filter Called ‘Clarendon’ — Updated at 2:25 p.m. –Yesterday, Facebook-owned photo app Instagram rolled out a feature that allows users to record video. As with photos, users can apply filters to the video. One of those filters is called “Clarendon,” but it turns out it was named after a street in San Francisco, not the Arlington neighborhood. [Instagram, All Things D]
Abingdon Book Bus Returns — After a successful summer of book distribution last year, the Abingdon Elementary book bus will return on July 9. The book bus is one of several summer reading initiatives for Arlington students this year. [Arlington Public Schools]
Road Closure For Art Festival — A road closure is planned for the inaugural Arlington Festival of the Arts in Clarendon. N. Highland Street will be closed between Washington Blvd and N. Hartford Street. Wilson and Clarendon Blvds will remain open during the festival, which runs from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. [ArtFestival.com]
Pike Sculpture Honored – Echo, the sculpture on display at Penrose Square on Columbia Pike, has been honored as a “top 50″ public art project for 2013. The sculpture “provides a modern interpretation of Arlington’s significant contribution to the history of communication.” [Arlington County]
Disclosure: Art festival promoter Howard Alan Events is an ARLnow.com advertiser. Hat tips (Instagram item) to @reddusfoximus and @jeffchin21.
The new Arlington Public Schools proposed budget includes less money for minor construction and major maintenance, after the Arlington County Board approved a smaller tax increase than was sought by the School Board.
The School Board had asked for an additional 0.5 cent tax increase dedicated to school funding, in addition to the County Manager’s proposed 3.2 cent tax increase. In the end, the County Board approved a 3.5 cent increase, only 0.3 cents more than the manager’s proposal — and that increase will be split by the county and the school system.
With an earlier version of its proposed budget now facing a shortfall of $1.4 million, the School Board cut about $600,000 from the minor construction/major maintenance fund, and another $600,000 from the school system’s reserve fund. Even with the cuts, however, the maintenance and construction fund and the reserve fund are both set to receive more than $7 million apiece in the budget.
Last week Arlington Public School parents were informed in a letter that all currently enrolled students who were eligible for bus service this year will remain eligible in the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
In order to maintain bus service while the school system adds nearly 1,000 additional students, APS is expected to add 10 new full-time positions to its transportation services department. The transportation budget will increase by about $1.75 million in Fiscal Year 2014, compared to FY 2013. All told, the FY 2014 proposed budget for transportation is $16.1 million.
The transportation budget boost comes after hundreds of parents protested changes to the busing policy at the beginning of this school year. The changes — intended to allow the school system to stop adding buses and drivers to its fleet — backfired when impacted parents complained bitterly about their children no longer being allowed to ride the bus to and from school.
The Arlington School Board is holding a public budget work session tonight (April 23) starting at 6:00 p.m. The School Board is expected to approve a final budget at its meeting on May 2.
County to Ask For Federal Storm Aid — Yesterday, Arlington County ended the State of Emergency declaration put in place for Hurricane Sandy. The county says it will seek federal reimbursement for the estimated $1.17 million cost of responding to the storm. Meanwhile, the county says that one private home was destroyed by the storm, while 17 suffered major damage and 27 suffered minor damage. [Arlington County]
APS Rolls Out ‘Courtesy Bus Service’ — Arlington Public Schools has started to bus some students who lost their eligibility to ride the bus this year as part of changes to the school system’s transportation policies this year. The courtesy service will only be offered this year, school officials say. So far, 83 students have been allowed back on buses. [Sun Gazette]
SoberRide Halloween Stats — The SoberRide program says it provided 157 free cab rides to “would-be drunk drivers” in the D.C. area on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. [Washington Regional Alcohol Program]
Road Closures for 5K Race — A number of roads will be closed near Tuckahoe Elementary School for the National Race Against the Odds 5K race this weekend. The closures will be in place from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 4). [ACPD]
Advice for Damaged Trees — The TreeStewards of Arlington and Alexandria have some advice for property owners whose trees were damaged by SuperStorm Sandy. The organization has been encouraging property owners to read about precautions to be taken when hiring tree services to help with storm clean-up, and about “first aid” procedures for storm-damaged trees.
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
LED Street Lights Draw Complaints — New energy-efficient LED street lighting has been drawing complaints from Arlington residents. Residents have complained that the new lights are too bright and too white. That has prompted county officials to install dimmers on the lights, which has driven up the cost of the new lighting. The county is also exploring the use of lighting that is less harsh but also less energy efficient. [Sun Gazette]
‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ Cooking Challenge Tonight — Some of Arlington most notable chefs will be battling some of Arlington’s top firehouse cooks in a cooking challenge for charity tonight. The chefs — David Guas of Bayou Bakery, Todd Pozinsky of Carlyle in Shirlington and Adam Barnett of Eventide — will go up against the tastiest creations from Arlington’s bravest. ‘Chiefs vs. Chefs’ is taking place from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. tonight at the Key Bridge Marriott (1401 Lee Highway). Tickets to the event, which benefits the Arlington Food Assistance Center, start at $100. [AFAC]
Transportation Advice for APS – Writing in response to the recent controversy over changes to busing at Arlington Public Schools, Greater Greater Washington writer and Arlington resident Steve Offutt says APS should look to Arlington County government for guidance on how to create a “real, 21st-century transportation plan” that isn’t so focused on buses. [Greater Greater Washington]
New Jeweler Coming to Clarendon — Alexandria-based B&C Jewelers will be opening a second location in Clarendon. The store will be opening at 2729 Wilson Boulevard, in the storefront once occupied by the Sisters3 boutique. [Patch]
Local Parties to Hold Debate Watching Parties — Local Republicans and Democrats will be holding viewing parties for the first of the 2012 presidential debates tonight. The Arlington Republican viewing party will be held at Mad Rose Tavern in Clarendon (3100 Clarendon Blvd). The Arlington Democratic viewing party will be held at Bailey’s Pub & Grille in Ballston (4238 Wilson Blvd).
Parents Say Bus Changes Are Taking a Toll – Students are not performing as well academically and at least one mom lost her job as a result of changes to the County’s school bus policies, according to a group of parents. Parents of Campbell Elementary students are planning to carpool — to Thursday’s School Board meeting, to voice their concerns. [WTOP]
More Local BRAC Moves Coming — According to one estimate, government agencies with leases expiring between now and 2015 as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure Act occupy more than 4.5 million square feet of office space in Arlington and Alexandria. The BRAC move-outs are impacting the bottom line of some commercial property holders. Vornado, with office space in Arlington and Fairfax County, expects earnings to be down as much as $60 million as a result of BRAC. [Bloomberg]
Church Series on ‘Restoring Political Civility’ — The Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ (5010 Little Falls Road) will be holding a four-part series that will “discuss how citizenship is a responsibility rather than a privilege, and how to restore civility to the political process.” [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Keithhall
Kaine to Visit Rosslyn Office – Former Virginia governor and current U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine (D) will be making a campaign stop at an office building in Rosslyn today. Kaine will participate in a roundtable discussion on the clean energy economy at 3:15 p.m. The event is not open to the public.
School Bus Gets Lost on First Day of School — An Arlington County school bus carrying Glebe Elementary students arrived at school nearly an hour late on Tuesday after the driver made a wrong turn. The driver was new and had to meet up with another driver at Barrett Elementary in order to find his way back to Glebe. The kids on the bus were “a little scared,” according to a parent. [Washington Examiner]
Air-Traffic Controllers Rattled by Close Call — A close call involving three jets at Reagan National Airport on July 31 rattled air traffic controllers and produced a “chaotic scene” in the airport’s tower, according to a new National Transportation Safety Board report. The planes, however, were at different headings and altitudes and would not have crashed, officials say. [Associated Press]
‘Girls Night Out’ in Shirlington Tonight — Shirlington Village is hosting a “Girls Night Out” from 5:00 to 10:00 tonight. In addition to food and drink specials at restaurants, and savings at other merchants, tonight’s event includes an “ArtJamz” freestyle paint party at the Hilton Garden Inn. A $25 ticket gets you a 20″x24″ canvas and unlimited painting supplies. [Village at Shirlington]
Policy Prompts Parents to Walk, Drive to School — A controversial new busing policy that has resulted in more students walking to school prompted many parents to walk with or drive their kids to school yesterday (Tuesday). A number of parents talked to the TV news crews who were camped outside schools to report on parents’ discontent with the policy. [WJLA, MyFoxDC]
More Troubles for Crystal City Head Shop — Now it’s not just Arlington County that’s telling the owner of a new head shop in Crystal City to take down a colorful mural outside the store. The shop’s landlord has told the store’s owner to take down the mural. A lawyer for the landlord also says the store owes back rent. [WUSA]
New High School in Arlington? — The Arlington Mill Continuation Program, which currnetly serves 127 students in grades 9 to 12 and 176 adults, may soon get accredited as a full-fledged high school, according to an article published by the Sun Gazette. The article is no longer on the paper’s website, but we’re told that it’s being integrated into a future article.
Arlington Woman Convicted of Double Murder — Arlington resident Natalia Wilson, 48, has pleaded guilty to the February 2010 double murder of her perceived romantic rival, Slavka Naydenova of Dale City, and the woman’s 8-year-old son. [Associated Press]
Flickr pool photo by Enigmatic Traveler
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.
APS chose the latter, and now faces a growing protest from parents whose children are no longer able to take the bus to school due to new busing policies. Many parents affected by the new policies have said that forcing their children to walk 1 to 1.5 miles to school, often across busy roads, puts their safety at risk.
If you had to choose one, assuming a finite school budget, would you invest in a few extra buses or, as the school system ended up doing, spend the money saved on education instead?
Flickr pool photo by Afagan
The changes include reorganizing and consolidating bus stops, assigning students to specific bus stops, and requiring students to present an APS-issued pass in order to board the bus.
To determine eligibility for the bus passes, APS used a computer program to calculate each student’s distance from their school. Elementary students less than a mile from their school, and middle and high school students less than a mile and a half from their school, will not be issued bus passes, and will be required to walk, bike or be driven to school.
The new distance calculations have resulted in some students who previously were able to ride the bus no longer eligible being to do so. That has many parents up in arms.
So far, more than 275 people have signed an online petition urging the school system to “stop the implementation of the new APS student transportation plan.” More than 185 have joined a Facebook group called “Arlington Parents for Safe School Transportation.” Many of the parents have the same complaints: that forcing students to walk to school risks their safety, and that there was not enough advance notice of the changes.
“I think it is ridiculous that you expect my 5 year old to walk to kindergarten. We are .8 miles away and have to cross over Glebe during rush hour,” wrote parent Jeremy Billy. “And drop off time is at 8:30am… pretty tough for single parents or parents that work. Perhaps this was not properly thought through. Please think this over and allow my child to ride the bus.”
“My 11 year old daughter will be attending Williamsburg MS in the fall. I received a letter stating that she was not eligible for bus service even though we live 1.7 miles from the school,” wrote parent Patricia Molteni. “It would take my daughter 35 minutes to walk to school — never mind how unsafe the route would be. My husband and I are both working parents and right now I don’t know how we are going to get her to and from school. This is extremely bad school policy to make this kind of change and surprise parents two weeks before school is supposed to start.”
“The lack of communication with affected families is really troubling,” wrote Mary Flannery. “People shouldn’t hear two weeks before school starts that their bus has been cut. I also believe bus transportation is a much better choice for our community than dozens more cars on the roads and in school drop zones.”
“There is the already mentioned safety issue of walking in the dark for much of the school year — both to and from school,” wrote another parent. “Why bother to send out alerts about the unsavory characters following, touching and causing distress to students if you are setting up a policy where more of these children are on the streets? It is very likely that there will be much more traffic congestion, pollution, possibility of accidents as the students who live close to the 1.5 mile cut off for bus transport will likely be driven to school.”