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Peter’s Take: Long-Term Planning Needed For New Schools

by Peter Rousselot June 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

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.

APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy has recommended a short-term plan to add 1,300 new high school seats by 2022. Under Murphy’s “hybrid proposal,” 600 seats would be added at the Ed Center and 700 seats would be added at the Career Center.

Good news: need for long-term planning acknowledged

Murphy has publicly acknowledged that:

  • Arlington County forecasts continued total population and school enrollment growth for many years beyond the cut-off date (2026) in the current Capital Improvement Plan
  • Arlington’s total population aged 0-14 will exceed 40,000 by 2030
  • APS needs to develop its own long-term new school construction plans well beyond 2026:

In his report to School Board members, Murphy said the school system will need an additional 2,200-seat high school, plus up to two middle schools and up to four elementary schools, if enrollment continues to push toward and beyond 30,000 students.

So long as these population and enrollment forecasts continue to represent the County’s and APS’ best estimates, they should be employed systematically to make long-term planning decisions for all land use and public infrastructure investment (e.g., schools, parks, roads).

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.

Murphy also made welcome remarks at the May 18 School Board meeting (between 1:37:30 and 1:40:25) that he is “hearing from the community some concern about the CIP”, and that for future new school construction projects “there will be three flavors of budgets: Low, Medium and High.”

This good news needs to be verified by careful scrutiny of the future “three flavors of budgets” to be sure that all three estimates are genuine and reflect new initiatives to bring per seat costs down substantially from current levels.

Bad news: long-term planning needs a jump start

Parent reactions on social media reflect justifiable disappointment at the lack of long-term planning. A substantial number of parents share this sentiment:

It is the lack of a meaningful long-term strategic plan that is troubling. If we go the smaller choice school route, what does that look like? What programs are we building out? What is the timing? We can’t keep doing this whack a mole approach to planning with the influx of students that we know is coming into the system over the next few years — the equivalent of a new elementary school every year.

Several parents are particularly critical of the disappointing Alphonse and Gaston routine between the County and APS relating to transportation challenges at Kenmore. In response to the excuse that such planning naturally ceased once the option of an elementary school at the Kenmore site was dropped, one parent convincingly counters:

  • The problem will get significantly worse as large, underutilized parcels become more fully maximized for whichever uses (speaking of 32 acres at Kenmore and approximately 17 acres at the Urgent Care site)
  • The County can’t wait for APS decisions in part because APS can’t move to use Kenmore without some promise of County assistance both with VDOT around Route 50 and with Fairfax County

Conclusion

The County and School Boards must demonstrate that they are:

  • collaborating seamlessly and transparently
  • listening to public concerns and adjusting accordingly
  • developing fiscally-sustainable, long term plans to build the new schools we need when we need them

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