Arlington, VA

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

Arlington County and APS face extraordinary challenges because of COVID-19.

With many questions left unanswered, on June 9 Governor Northam approved general guidance for a phased reopening of Virginia public schools.

COVID-19 must become the catalyst for County government and APS completely to reorganize and integrate their operating and capital planning now.

County Board July 7 special election

Independent candidate Susan Cunningham appropriately devotes an entire press release to many helpful suggestions for accelerating County/APS collaboration, including:

“The County Board, School Board, County Manager, and new Superintendent should sit down together immediately to prioritize what’s essential for our school community and the entire Arlington community.”

Democratic nominee Takis Karantonis astutely concludes:

“I am a strong supporter of the work done by the 2015 Community Facilities Study group [“CFSG”]. I have been frustrated by a seeming lack of support among School and County Board members for the thoughtful recommendations in that study.”

Republican nominee Bob Cambridge correctly confirms that “effective management requires initiatives such as cost-benefit analyses.”

School Board November 3 general election

In responses to a questionnaire sponsored by my colleagues at Arlingtonians for our Sustainable Future (ASF), the three School Board candidates also advocate major reforms now:

Symone Walker, the Independent candidate:

“[I]t is time … to better manage and direct Arlington’s growth in a more paced and modulated manner. I favor the approach to retrofit and repurpose existing APS and county facilities as has been done in Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria. I favor this approach as practical, more efficient and environmentally friendly, and the most cost-effective.”

The two ACDC-endorsed candidates:   

Cristina Diaz-Torres has “long supported APS and the County engaging in more robust cost-benefit analysis procedures for construction. This is particularly important given the current economic crisis and the likely drop in both tax revenue and (potentially) bond capacity.”

David Priddy states “for years we have had conversations around facilities owned by the county and facilities owned by APS. The two were not in agreement. That meant we did not have the full picture when properly planning for future growth.”

Budgeting

As Cunningham wisely stresses, we need multi-year budgets that include facilities plans, community amenities, and realistic maintenance. Schools need to be envisioned and operated as true community resources, with facilities integral to the whole community — especially outside school hours.”

Given APS’s rapid enrollment growth spurred by Arlington’s surging population growth and development, APS’s current operating and facilities models are fiscally unsustainable.

Operations

As we now plan more intensively to reopen APS, we must adopt options like these:

  • Create a new instructional vision for APS. As Symone Walker and Black Parents of Arlington rightly urge, APS must completely restructure the way it teaches children how to read.
  • Launch a fully-transparent, public civic engagement process to look holistically at APS and County operations together, analyze the benefits and costs of schools, parks, fields, outdoor learning spaces and arts venues across the separate APS and County bureaucratic silos, and produce reprioritized operating plans.
  • Scrap the current revenue-sharing agreement between APS and the County (under which APS is entitled to 47% of locally-generated tax revenues), and replace it with new funding mechanisms that reflect both current and long-term realities. 

Facilities

Last fall, APS published its Arlington Facilities and Student Accommodation Plan (“AFSAP plan”). At the time, the AFSAP plan contained what was then APS’s best estimate of the new schools it would need during the next 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) cycle. Now, because of COVID-19, the County Manager is proposing a scaled-back, one-year CIP for FY 2021.

But planning urgently needs to begin now on a revised 10-year AFSAP plan. A major problem last fall’s plan exposed is the snail’s pace of current County and School Board members in adopting a long-term public facilities plan locating new school seats and other new public facilities (e.g., fire stations, parks, stormwater infrastructure) at specific sites — five years after the CFSG recommendations to do so.

Conclusion

Arlington County government and APS must immediately accelerate, integrate and reform planning for our community’s future. We’re all in this together.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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