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School Board Candidates Clash on Diversity, Capacity At Forum

by Chris Teale April 6, 2017 at 11:00 am 0

Three candidates for Arlington School Board looked to stake their claim for the Democratic endorsement in a forum dominated by talk of capacity, boundaries and diversity.

Incumbent James Lander faced challengers Maura McMahon and Monique O’Grady on Wednesday night at the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting. All three are vying for ACDC’s endorsement at next month’s caucuses.

And while there was broad consensus among all three on several issues facing Arlington Public Schools, there was some disagreement over respecting the system’s diversity and solving its capacity needs.

Lander said the School Board’s decision to issue a statement in support of its immigrant families earlier this year showed that APS stood with them.

But O’Grady said the statement did not go far enough to help support families in light of some of the anti-immigrant rhetoric stemming from President Donald Trump’s administration.

“We do have to do a better job of making those families feel safe in our community,” she said. “Putting a statement out is just a start.”

And in her closing statement, McMahon said respecting diversity includes ensuring a quality education for all students, regardless of economic or social background.

“We may all be at the same Arlington party that Mr. Lander refers to,” she said, “but we are not all eating the same meal.”

The candidates also differed on their approaches to solving APS’ capacity needs, as each year the system adds approximately 800 students. Lander said the provision of a short-term plan to add 5,000 seats at all levels in 10 years as well as a long-term plan would help ensure every student has a seat, but his challengers advocated for thinking differently.

O’Grady said more collaboration with the County Board is needed, as well as ensuring a school’s instructional program — whether a choice program or comprehensive — fits with the location’s needs. McMahon said APS must look at its current sites and examine if they are being used as efficiently as possible, and shake things up if needed.

“It might mean more complicated shifting around if necessary, but it will help in the long-term,” she said.

All three appeared broadly supportive of the additional 1 cent real estate tax hike proposed by County Manager Mark Schwartz to pay for APS’ budget needs.

They also agreed that the current practice of providing each elementary school student an iPad should be discontinued, if it means being able to pay for other budget needs like psychologists or social workers.

“We want to make sure our students have a love for reading, and some of that is done with a book,” said Lander.

The three candidates are on the ballot for the Democratic caucuses on May 9, 11 and 13, where a County Board nominee will also be chosen.

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