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Peter’s Take: APS Capacity Proposals Need Further Work

peter_rousselot_2014-12-27_for_facebookPeter’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.

On May 9, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his preliminary recommendations regarding how APS’ Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) could reduce APS’ 4,600 total seat deficit in 2025. Murphy’s preliminary recommendations reduced only 53% of that deficit.

On May 17, the School Board (SB) reviewed and discussed Murphy’s recommendations. Dissatisfied with Murphy’s priorities, the SB adopted its own series of “key points,” including:

  • Increasing enrollment in the Arlington Tech Program at the Arlington Career Center.
  • Other options that place a higher priority on reducing the projected 2,775 HS seat deficit in 2025.
  • Possibilities for using the Reed building and site to develop a new elementary school to help reduce the projected 1,387 ES seat deficit in 2025.
  • Future additions at several North Arlington elementary schools further to relieve elementary overcrowding.

On May 24, in a joint work session with the County Board, the SB made significant further proposed changes to its CIP. These had not been posted on the County’s website when this column was submitted.

As a top instructional priority, APS should commit to a fourth comprehensive high school

The SB was correct to place a higher priority on solutions for the HS seat deficit, and the SB’s May 24 presentation claims to eliminate that deficit by 2025. However, the SB has not yet committed to making a fourth comprehensive HS part of the solution. It should.

In an earlier column, I outlined the case for a fourth comprehensive HS, including the extensive academic research documenting why 3,000 seat comprehensive high schools are a bad idea. Arlington cannot and should not rely solely on other initiatives like Arlington Tech, online learning, university partnerships, double shifting, or extending the school day.

On its own, and working collaboratively with the County, APS must significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction

Under the CIP scenario presented on May 24, there are still significant elementary and middle school seat deficits in 2025, and those assume that actual enrollment does not exceed projected enrollment.

APS needs to adopt new approaches to reducing per-square foot costs:

  • In consultation with disinterested outside experts, APS and the County should conduct a stem-to-stern review of all aspects of APS’ procurement, bidding, design, and construction practices. If Arlington continues to pay for APS’ current version of new facilities customization, overcrowding will grow and instructional quality will erode.
  • Other school systems are embracing new modular school technologies. APS staff insists modular isn’t a good option in most Arlington circumstances. Do disinterested outside experts agree with APS?

In exchange for APS’ agreement to significantly reduce the per-square-foot cost of new facilities construction, the County should provide APS with land and a higher % share of bonding capacity

If APS commits to a new era of more frugal construction through standardization, the County — within the constraints of its “10% rule” on debt service — should give:

  • APS county land (but not current parkland), and
  • a higher % share of total Arlington bonding capacity.

To finance this commitment, the County should defer some proposed County investments until later in the CIP planning period.

Conclusion

Adopting a more frugal approach to procurement, bidding, design and construction, in exchange for county land and greater bonding capacity, will get us much closer to eliminating our current capacity crisis at a price we can afford.

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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