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Peter’s Take: Cancel the Science Focus-Key Swap

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.

In October, I explained why the Arlington Public Schools superintendent was placing the cart before the horse by proposing to swap the buildings currently housing the Arlington Science Focus (ASFS) and Key Elementary Schools.

On Nov. 16, APS staff posted a new FAQ document that continues to dodge these major questions:

  • does the swap make sense?
  • should the School Board leave that decision to APS staff?

The School Board should direct the Superintendent to cancel the ASFS-Key building swap

APS’s premise that the Superintendent can approve this swap because it only entails swapping programs is incorrect. Further, given the major level of disruption that a swap would cause, the School Board should step-up and own any swap decision as a matter of community accountability.

An APS memorandum (“memo”) discussed at an August 28th School Board meeting offered six reasons for the swap. None of those reasons justify a swap:

  1. The memo states that ASFS is the only neighborhood school that sits outside its attendance boundary. It proposes the swap to fix this without thoughtful consideration of what a new boundary could offer. APS created this problem via its Options and Transfer Policy. APS should fix it by drawing a revised attendance boundary around ASFS.
  2. The memo states that the Key building can accommodate all 680 ASFS K-5 current students through use of trailers. However, if APS intends to move the ASFS program to the Key building, APS also needs to move the associated equipment to Key, reducing the Key building capacity to 605 students. Meanwhile immersion students will be crammed into a building that is 19 percent smaller.
  3. The memo states that a swap offers more flexibility than boundary changes. APS guarantees that once a student is admitted to an option school or accepts a transfer to a neighborhood school, enrollment is continuous until there is a boundary change. Since the School Board plans to revisit all boundaries in 2020, APS should maximize its flexibility by waiting for the next boundary process to determine if option and neighborhood schools should be moved. If a program move is needed (such as moving an elementary immersion program), a county-wide analysis should first be published and discussed with the community to determine the optimum locations of elementary immersion programs and to locate neighborhood schools in places where all the seats will be filled.
  4. The memo claims the swap would minimize the number of students needing to be reassigned to different schools. But as demonstrated repeatedly during the just-concluded South Arlington boundary process, parents deserve to be highly skeptical of such APS assurances. Rather than make an impetuous decision, APS should wait until the 2020 boundary process to determine if program moves are needed and all APS sites should be considered.
  5. The memo claims the swap would reduce transportation time for students, incorrectly comparing the 46 percent of students who could walk to Key to the 18 percent of students APS says can walk to ASFS. But the superintendent did not do a comparative analysis of crossing guards and walkability. Others have. Their analysis shows that drawing a boundary around ASFS and adding a crossing guard at N. Kirkwood Road enables more walkers than Key. The Key crossing guard enables 62 students to walk, while one at Kirkwood will enable 184 more ASFS students to walk. ASFS’s ½-mile and 1-mile walkability rates are 40 percent and 51 percent respectively, while Key’s are 28 percent and 46 percent. Drawing a reasonable boundary around ASFS yields the greatest reduction in the number of busses and reduces transportation time for many students who have one of the longest bus rides in APS (to Ashlawn Elementary) even though they live within ½-mile of ASFS. During a $43 million APS budget shortfall, this fiscally responsible path forward has no “TBD”-program-move costs and reduces overall transportation costs.
  6. Finally, the memo notes that the current constrained ASFS walk zone is not diverse. But, for diversity purposes, APS should be comparing attendance boundaries not walk zones. The families who live within 1-mile of ASFS are diverse. Moreover, APS overlooks major developments that will provide diversity like the 100 percent committed affordable housing American Legion redevelopment in the same planning unit as ASFS.

Conclusion

Even to the casual observer, the Superintendent’s proposed ASFS-Key building swap exposes a lack of basic long-range planning. For that reason alone, the School Board should cancel the swap and work to regain the public trust.

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