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.”
Parents Speak Out Against New Bus Policy — Some parents spoke out against Arlington Public Schools’ new voucher-based school bus policy at last night’s School Board meeting. The policy will result in some students no longer being able to ride the bus to school. School Board member Abby Raphael said the changes are necessary: “Our school system is growing,” she said. “We have to adapt and make changes. It’s very expensive to add a bus and a bus driver.” [Sun Gazette]
APAH Asks For School Supply Donations — The Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing is seeking donations of school supplies. APAH will fill backbacks with the supplies and give them to about 250 disadvantaged students ahead of the first day of school. [Arlington Mercury]
W-L Softball Field Approved — The Arlington School Board formally approved a new softball field at Washington-Lee High School at its meeting last night. The softball field will cost about $1.3 million. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Jeff Gamble
The book bus was launched this summer with the goal of providing enhanced reading opportunities for students at Abingdon, where nearly 53 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Once a week for five weeks, the bus would make stops in the community around Arlington, giving students the chance to check out books right in their neighborhood.
The bus was staffed by Abingdon teachers and the school’s principal, all of whom volunteered their time. Inside the bus were about 2,000 books donated by local businesses, nonprofit organization, a local author, and several publishers. Much of the equipment used to check out books — including barcode scanners — were also donated.
“It was almost completely subsidized, which is fabulous,” said Abingdon principal Joanne Uyeda.
Over the course of four weeks, about 200 students checked out more than 700 books, according to Abingdon literary coach Erin Watson. For the bus’ fifth week , students returned their checked-out books, picked out a free donated book to keep, and entered to win one of four Barnes & Noble Nooks. The Nooks will be given out during a school reading assembly during the first week of school.
Uyeda said the ultimate goal of the book bus is to help close the “achievement gap” between Abingdon students and students in more well-to-do neighborhoods. By bringing elementary-reading-level books to the neighborhoods, and by making the book bus stops into a fun event, Uyeda said the bus was able to encourage more Abingdon students to read over the summer.
“You can trace about 80 percent of the achievement gap to summer reading loss, because middle class kids gain a month over the summer and disenfranchised kids lose three months,” Uyeda said. “By the time they leave elementary school they’re roughly two years behind, and they don’t make that up in middle school.”
Julie Bato, a parent of an Abingdon student and a teacher at Long Branch Elementary, said the book bus brings the community together and allows students to see their teachers during the summer.
“It’s great,” she said. “I love seeing all the neighborhood kids come out. The appreciation the staff has for these kids, some of whom might not get to the library over the summer… I just think that’s priceless. They’re the reason the kids want to come. They want to see their teachers, they want to see their principal.”
One young student was so grateful to the book bus volunteers that he brought them pudding cups and spoons on the last week.
Teachers and administrators both said they hope to bring the book bus back next summer.
“We want to keep doing it every summer, if we can,” said Susanna Smith, a reading teacher at Abingdon. “It’s a lot of fun seeing the students smile when they see their teachers during the summer.”
The Arlington Public Schools Transportation Director has retired, just weeks before APS will go back in session with a new, recently-announced voucher-based busing system.
Transportation Director Gregory Sutton’s last day on the job was yesterday, Aug. 7, Assistant Superintendent Linda Erdos confirmed to ARLnow.com today. Erdos would not say whether Sutton’s retirement was announced in advance or whether it was an unexpected resignation. She did say, however, that the process to replace him will not begin until later this year.
“We do not share the private reasons that employees share when they notify us of their decisions,” Erdos said. “We have an interim team of transportation managers who will lead Transportation while we begin our personnel process to fill the position later this year.”
Sept. 4 is the first day of school in Arlington, and this school year students who take the bus will be required to present a voucher in order to board an APS school bus. The move to a voucher-based system — announced in two separate letters to parents — follows the release of a report last fall that concluded Arlington’s school bus system was under ”a great strain” and reaching a “breaking point” systemwide.
The report recommended a reorganization of management and administrative staffing at the school system’s Transportation Services department, among other steps.
Flickr pool photo by Afagen
School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy announced the new policy, devised after an independent study of the system last fall, in a letter to parents in July. APS sent parents another letter on Aug. 1 urging them to update their addresses.
From the July letter:
With the start of the school year this fall, we will be moving forward with the plans that the Office of Transportation has outlined. One of the first steps underway includes the implementation of bus-routing software to help us plan routes that are more efficient so we can maximize the capacity of our bus fleet.
The second step that is critical to this plan is to serve students who are eligible to receive bus transportation services. As outlined in School Board policy, elementary school students who live more than one mile from school and secondary school students who live more than 1 1/2 miles from school will receive bus transportation.
In early August, principals will be sending families of students who are eligible for transportation services a letter that will include their child’s bus stop and route. This addresses a critical safety concern for students who ride buses and allows us to better communicate and serve families when we may experience a delay or other changes in service.
The distance rules are not a change to the transportation policy, APS spokesperson Linda Erdos said. Students who live within the mile or 1.5-mile radius who would have to cross large roadways or highways to get to school will still be allowed to take the bus.
The vouchers will be a way for bus drivers to become accustomed to the students on their routes, Erdos said, providing for what APS hopes is a safer, more efficient system with an expected 900 more students and the same amount of buses.
“We have had problems in the past when students who live in the walk zone walk outside the walk zone and get on the bus,” Erdos said. “Our priority is to add classroom teachers to teach children, not more buses. More important, the new system will let us know every student who is on a bus route. If something happened, this will let us know who’s on that bus.”
Students within the “walk zone” are being encouraged to walk or bike to school. Still, one parent thinks the new system will actually increase the number of students from inside the walk zone who drive or who hitch a ride to school, which could cause traffic and safety issues.
“I applaud Dr. Murphy on working to reform the bus system,” wrote Donaldson Run blogger Robert Cannon. “But creating a voucher system, and refusing to transport students who live just less than 1.5 miles from school is only going to make things worse.”
An accident reportedly involving two buses has shut down a street near Virginia Hospital Center.
16th Street N. has been temporarily shut down between George Mason Drive and N. Edison Street due to an accident reportedly involving an ART bus and a school bus.
There were no reports of injuries. No word on whether there were passengers on either bus at the time of the accident.
Update at 5:35 p.m. — The accident involved a newly-hired ART bus driver but only resulted in minor damage to bus mirrors, Arlington County Transit Bureau Chief Stephen Del Giudice confirms. Del Giudice says he believes that the ART bus had passengers on board at the time of the accident, but no injuries were reported. The school bus did not have passengers on board, he said.
Del Giudice said that police closed the road immediately following the accident for a reason unrelated to the accident. He was unable to elaborate on what that reason was.
ACPD officers responded to the intersection of N. Taft Street and 21st Street, in the North Highland neighborhood, around 8:00 this morning for a report of a fight on a school bus. A 15-year-old and a 16-year-old were detained and issued juvenile petitions by police. They will both be charged with disorderly conduct, according to Arlington police spokeswoman Det. Crystal Nosal.
The bus then continued on to Yorktown High School. The two students were released to face possible disciplinary action at the school.
“We can confirm that there was an altercation this morning between two students on one of the APS buses,” Arlington Public School spokesperson Frank Bellavia said. “School administrators were notified and appropriate steps are being taken in accordance with our policies and procedures.”
Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief