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Peter’s Take: Think Way Outside the Box on 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 Rousselot

Arlington is thinking far too narrowly about the APS capacity crisis.

Our options should not be limited to property currently owned or leased by APS. With the exception of parkland, all property currently owned or leased by the County also should be considered. Subject to a cost-benefit analysis, so should property not currently owned or leased.

No neighborhood should be immune.

We provided the tax revenue that enabled both APS and the County to acquire title to land, but APS and the County should not be treating that land like private property owners.

Jason Rylander, a leading community activist, has provided a valuable roadmap on how we might approach these issues. In an Oct. 23 letter, Rylander outlines a series of needed changes.

Below is a summary of some of Rylander’s best ideas (Much more detail is provided in his letter).

Expand Evaluation Criteria For New Schools

The current criteria for considering county-owned property as sites for new school facilities are far too restrictive.

For example, why should:

  • sites be limited to “an existing school site adjacent to more than one acre of County Board-owned property”?
  • there be a restriction on considering sites smaller than 3.5 acres?

Vacant office space should be considered.

Joint County-APS Planning Process To Locate Best Sites

We need a comprehensive, integrated vision regarding where our school facilities should be located and why. That vision should be developed by combining County and APS expertise in a master planning exercise.

The Arlington public justifiably lacks confidence that our current public institutions are doing the best job estimating future public school enrollment.

Based on the most recently available data, APS now appears to be planning for at least a 32,300-student system. But, because the goalposts keep moving so frequently, the public is rightly skeptical.

Improve Public Communication and Outreach on Potential Sites

It’s long past time to break down the silos between the County and APS.

The current lack of transparency in discussing these issues and presenting them for public discussion is unacceptable. As Rylander explains:

Repeatedly, citizens have been told that certain sites are not “on the table” or “cannot be discussed publicly” due to ongoing negotiations between our county and school governments.


Jason Rylander and I don’t agree on every aspect of how best to handle the capacity crisis. For example, we respectfully differ on the extent to which parkland should be part of the conversation. However, the community owes Jason a vote of thanks for his thoughtful recommendations on how best to proceed.

The County and APS need a new start on this issue.

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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