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Peter’s Take: Can APS Get a Grip on Enrollment Projections?

Peter Rousselot

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.

ARLnow.com reported last week that APS has hired a consultant to study the way APS projected enrollment during the recent high school boundary adjustment process.

Discussion

APS needs independent professional help on enrollment forecasts (and closely-related issues like per-seat construction costs). Since literally tens of millions of our tax dollars are at stake, properly designed consultant studies can produce benefits that far exceed the costs. As a community, we need a fully-transparent conversation on these issues.

December’s HS boundary decision

The period leading up to APS’ December decision to adjust the boundaries for Arlington’s three current comprehensive high schools (Yorktown, W-L, Wakefield) was plagued by many enrollment data errors that savvy parents identified and called out. Doubts justifiably were cast on the competence and credibility of APS staff who prepared the data.

Last week’s Discovery Elementary meeting

Last week, the Discovery Elementary PTA hosted an important meeting to discuss policy issues surrounding APS’ booming enrollment. Over 100 people attended. Once again, savvy and engaged parents were quick to spot new errors and inconsistencies in some of the APS slides presented at the meeting.

Discussing her reactions on social media, one parent captured the sentiments of many when she observed:

I hope parents will push for full transparency in the projections going forward. While it’s ridiculous that parents have to be the ones to catch the mistakes, it’s even worse when APS hides the numbers and the methodology so that no one can even see the errors. During the boundary process, many of us thought that Yorktown’s projections looked way too low, and it appeared that APS was making wacky assumptions as to how many kids would transfer out of YHS in order to make their numbers “work.” But APS wouldn’t release their transfer projections and they still won’t. If they had released them during the boundary process, perhaps this mistake could have been fixed before they voted to change boundaries.

January’s consultant study

The best enrollment forecast study prepared to date is a consultant study presented at a joint County Board-School Board meeting in January. A related joint study presented at that meeting concluded (at p. 23) that Arlington’s total population aged 0-14 will exceed 40,000 by 2030.

The County and APS should continue to refine the methodologies and conclusions of January’s consultant study as we move forward.

JFAC’s role

As I discussed last week, the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC) has an important role to play with respect to county-wide facilities planning decisions. JFAC should play a leadership role in fostering continuing updates and improvements to January’s consultant study.

Conclusion

Arlington needs to make the best possible policy decisions regarding what new schools, parks, and other public infrastructure we will need, and when and where we will need them. To do that requires us to have the best possible forecast data for these purposes.

As I noted in December, Arlington must demonstrate to the public that it has fiscally-sustainable plans to accommodate the substantial development and population growth that Arlington says will occur between now and 2040.

It is neither prudent, realistic nor fair to fail to plan for this growth because some people think or hope that it might not occur. Instead, we must plan now for the consequences of our most accurate forecasts.

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