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Peter’s Take: The Way Forward After the TJ Decision

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 ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotThe County Board recently decided not to approve “for now” an APS plan to build a new elementary school at the Thomas Jefferson site.

Several critical lessons must guide our way forward to meet the APS goal of adding a minimum of 725 new elementary seats in South Arlington by 2018.

Three of those lessons are discussed below.

1. APS Can’t Choose The Best Option Unless It Knows What All The Options Are

The county and APS must share with each other — and with the public — an inventory of all site options that they know about. This inventory must include both County-owned sites and private sites (like vacant commercial office space).

2. APS Must Be Completely Transparent In Discussing All Options

After APS has all the information about potential options, APS must conduct an open and transparent process to share options with the community, explaining:

  • what APS’ preferred options are, and
  • why other options were not chosen.

This transparent process cannot be limited solely to sites. The process also must include programs. For example, APS must disclose whether it intends to use a new facility as a neighborhood school or a choice school or a combination.

New, updated forecasts for enrollment growth — jointly prepared with the county — must be part of the conversation. The public must have confidence that all of our new school facilities will be located in the areas in which both the county and APS agree that the greatest school enrollment growth is likely to occur.

New, less elaborate and lower-cost design options for new school facilities everywhere in the county must be part of the conversation. The public needs assurances that all APS designs are as frugal as possible.

3. Developers Must Be Part Of the Solution

The county must get developers to pay for part of the cost of new school seats. Financing new learning facilities will require more than bond financing.

For starters, Arlington must emulate other jurisdictions, like Fairfax and Loudoun, that require a separate school impact analysis and developer contributions as a condition of approval of development projects.

If the County Attorney believes that Arlington lacks the authority to emulate Fairfax and Loudoun, then he must spell that out now so that we can ask our legislators to seek necessary changes in state law.

Of course, we cannot expect developers to pay for everything. But they must foot the bill for their fair share of the cost of the public infrastructure needed to serve the increasing population their new projects attract.

CONCLUSION

Arlington leaders must:

  • consider all available sites,
  • share publicly all proposed options,
  • make developers pay their fair share.

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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