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Peter’s Take: New Spending Needed to Increase High School Capacity

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Peter RousselotAs reported by and the Sun Gazette, the Arlington Public School staff recently made a  presentation on high school capacity. The presentation asked the School Board to issue a public statement that the looming need to increase capacity at Arlington’s comprehensive high schools CANNOT be solved by building a new high school. Why not? It’s way too expensive.

How refreshing to see this degree of sensitivity to capital project costs!

The APS staff report does make it clear, however, that additional capital spending will be required to address high school capacity needs. That’s not a surprise. Excellent progress on many educational fronts continues to attract more and more families and students to Arlington and to APS.

The new high school capacity report further underscores the need to set priorities among all Arlington capital projects. As the Sun Gazette high school capacity story warned, “with both the school system and the county government … approaching their self-imposed limits on bond debt — options are further constrained.” We can’t afford every project.

Since both school system and county government capital projects ultimately are funded by the same tax base, we need to move rapidly toward a more unified, integrated and rigorous system of setting capital spending priorities for all capital projects. Such priorities should NOT be selected within artificial silos in which county projects on the one hand and school projects on the other hand are only evaluated and prioritized separately within such silos.

As I have written previously, the highest priority should be given to expenditures on core government services. Since public education is one of the most critical of those core functions, Arlington’s public schools deserve the highest priority for capital spending. Arlington’s new Wakefield High School building is an excellent example of a recent APS capital project that stuck to the basics. The new Wakefield building has received strong community reviews.

The Arlington Mill Community Center is another recent Arlington County capital project that has been widely praised.

By unfortunate contrast, extravagant and wasteful spending on non-essential design elements has characterized several other recent Arlington County projects like the Aquatic Center, the Clarendon dog park, and the $1 million Super Stop.

As we begin planning for next year’s critical revisions to Arlington’s Capital Improvement Plan, let’s learn from our successes.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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