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Democratic Candidates Call for ‘Broadly Inclusive’ Public Land Discussion

Ashlawn Elementary School addition groundbreaking ceremony (photo courtesy APS)The Democratic candidates for Arlington County Board and School Board released a joint statement Tuesday regarding public lands and the school capacity crunch.

County Board candidate Alan Howze and School Board candidates Barbara Kanninen and Nancy Van Doren said that while the school system should address capacity needs “expeditiously and cost-effectively,” it should do so following a “broadly inclusive community process” to discuss the use of public lands for schools, parks and affordable housing.

In response, incumbent County Board candidate John Vihstadt said that while a community process is currently underway, “what is also needed is a recognition that some difficult choices will have to be made and that hard trade-offs must occur.”

School Board candidate Audrey Clement, who is running against Kanninen (Van Doren is running unopposed), in turn questioned why the county’s school construction costs and per-pupil costs are significantly higher than other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

The full statements from the candidates, after the jump.

File photo courtesy APS

The statement from the Democratic candidates:

Our community faces a once-in-a-generation challenge to determine how best to use public lands, including land for our rapidly growing schools. Arlington Public Schools (APS) just announced that 1,213 new students were added this year. Working groups and community meetings have convened across the county to discuss potential school expansion and new schools at multiple sites. These recent events highlight the urgent need to continue developing near-term capacity solutions and plan strategically for school expansion over the next ten years and beyond.

As Democratic leaders, we pledge to work closely together, and with the community, to address immediate capacity needs and develop a smart, sustainable, long-term plan to provide sufficient space for our growing student population, while continuing to provide important park and recreational amenities. This must be done expeditiously and cost-effectively, because even as we address overcrowded schools today, it is projected that within a decade, we will have 30,000 students, with a shortage of 1,900 elementary seats, 1,600 middle school seats, and 2,800 high school seats.

We are impatient to begin a broadly inclusive community process which examines how best to use public land in Arlington – including schools, parks, recreation, affordable housing, and public safety facilities – to meet our community’s needs. At the same time, we are confident – because of our high quality teachers and staff – that Arlington children will continue to receive a top rate education as we develop our strategic plan to provide more permanent classrooms.
As an immediate first step, we urge Arlington citizens to submit comments through the County Planning Department website on the Public Land Site Evaluation Guidelines being developed. In the end, Arlington’s Comprehensive Plan, which sets our course for growth and development for the next 30 years, needs to incorporate schools and ensure that we balance all of our community needs.

Arlington has great public schools that are well supported by the community. The Washington Post rates Arlington’s high schools in the top 2% of U.S. High Schools. In its 2014 Community Satisfaction Survey, APS found that 90% of parents rate the schools as very good or excellent. Year after year, community members overwhelmingly support bonds to build and maintain our schools. Arlington taxpayers – with and without children in school – know that great schools are a core value and asset of our community.

We have a responsibility to our children to provide great education, to residents to protect and enhance neighborhoods, and to taxpayers to be frugal and make prudent investments. With a solid plan that meets schools and community space needs, we can ensure that Arlington continues to be a vibrant, diverse and livable community for decades to come. We commit ourselves to working with the community and our colleagues to make this happen.

Alan Howze
Democratic Candidate
Arlington County Board

Barbara Kanninen
Democratic Endorsed Candidate
Arlington County School Board

Nancy Van Doren
Member and Democratic Endorsed Candidate
Arlington County School Board

Vihstadt’s response:

As someone who had two sons in Arlington Public Schools over a 17-year span that just ended in 2012, who served as a PTA president, as co-chair of the school bond campaign in 2002 and a County Council of PTA’s officer, I have long said that both the County Board and School Board must do a better job of coordinating, planning and effectuating both short- and long-term school capacity solutions. The broad-based community engagement process now underway, with public land site evaluation guidelines pending, is a good start. But what is also needed is a recognition that some difficult choices will have to be made and that hard trade-offs must occur. Top schools, sound infrastructure, public safety and strong neighborhood quality of life are the true measures of community success–not extravagant projects of questionable value like the half billion dollar streetcar, million dollar bus stops, an $80 million aquatics center and over-the-top dog parks.

Finally, as we add ever more population and density to our County, it is time that we more carefully assess how our development decisions are impacting our public schools, as well as our infrastructure, parks, and the diversity and character of our neighborhoods.

I look forward to continue working with my County Board and School Board colleagues–regardless of party–to meet our schools overcrowding issues and other pressing community challenges in a collaborative, holistic and cost-effective manner.

John Vihstadt (Independent)
Member, Arlington County Board

Clement’s response:

[Alan] Howze, Barbara Kanninen and Nancy Van Doren are to be commended for acknowledging Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) classroom capacity crisis. Unfortunately they will not be able to meet the challenge under APS’s recently adopted 2015-2024 CIP, as it projects a 2,500 seat deficit even AFTER spending $383 million to produce 4,000 additional seats.

To address the crisis, School Board needs to ask the Superintendent some hard questions:

Why does it cost Arlington $2 million to build a new classroom, when it costs Alexandria $900,000?

Why does it cost Arlington $50 million to provide a new elementary school when it costs Fairfax County $20 million?

Why does Arlington spend $5,000 more per pupil per year than Fairfax County?

Why are voters asked to approve a $105 million school bond without knowing how half the money is going to be spent?

Audrey Clement
Independent Candidate
Arlington School Board

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