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School Board Candidates Talk Planetarium, Overcrowding

Miriam Gennari, the Green Party candidate for school board, made her case for why she should replace incumbent Sally Baird last night. To Gennari, the biggest challenges facing Arlington Public Schools come down to sustainability and environmental stewardship.

“The questions that we’re going to face have more to do with our environment than anything else,” Gennari said. “As we continue to plan our community to become more dense… we have to determine how we can best make those transitions while not having a negative affect on our children.”

Gennari touted her fight against styrofoam in school cafeterias two years ago. She also questioned the nearly $100 million spent on a Washington-Lee High School that opened in 2008 and is already overcrowded.

Baird, meanwhile, emphasized student achievement, saying she wants to continue her efforts to boost the graduation rate.

“First and foremost, we’re about helping kids achieve,” she said.

Baird recounted that when she ran four years ago, the student population was declining and someone asked if she “would have the courage to close a school.”

“There are generational trends going on here, so we have to be very careful about how we manage it… understand that in some places where the population is growing it’s not going to keep growing,” Baird said.

Both candidates were asked about the planetarium, which was set for closure under the superintendent’s latest school budget. The 40-year-old facility was saved by the efforts of the Friends of the Planetarium, a coalition of concerned citizens who agreed to raise funds for renovations.

“God save our planetarium,” said Gennari, adding that she would restore full funding to the program. “We need opportunities for our children to do more than just take tests.”

“I’m a friend of the planetarium as well,” Baird said, before qualifying her answer. She suggested that she supports the school system funding instructional time at the planetarium, while allowing a non-profit (like the Friends) to support public shows or private events on nights and weekends.

“I think this is an exciting dialog we’re having in the community,” Baird said. She didn’t say who should pay for the renovations.

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