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Peter’s Take: Vote YES on 2020 School Bond, but Long-Term Reforms Urgent

Peter’s Take is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The 2020 School Bond is worth $52.65 million. These bond funds will be used for the following projects:

Major infrastructure such as HVAC replacement which impacts air quality for schools: $15.4 million;

Building refreshes and kitchen renovations at ATS, Key and McKinley: $7.65 million;

Security entrances at Taylor, Gunston, Jefferson, Williamsburg, Wakefield: $5.30 million;

Planning and design to meet 10-year projected capacity needs at all school levels: $24.3 million*.

Arlington voters should vote YES, with the understanding that comprehensive long-term capital planning must be an urgent priority. More information on this bond is here.

Background

APS facilities are used more than 58,000 hours annually by the entire Arlington community, including: community membership in APS aquatics facilities; evening and weekend programs run by Arlington County Parks and Recreation; holiday and summer camps when schools are not in session; and a wide range of community fairs, arts events and other special meetings. All these uses are in addition to serving approximately 28,000 students in the pre-K through grade 12 programs.

When major work needs to be done ranging from replacing internal school systems or roofs, or if buildings require significant renovation, or additions or new buildings are to be built, these projects are referred to as Capital Improvement and Major Infrastructure Projects.

Why you should vote YES

This year, APS departed from the traditional 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in order to align with the Arlington County FY 2021 CIP which is focused on the short-term due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This 2020 school bond sticks to sustainable decisions which address immediate needs without creating conflicts with imminent policy decisions under development in other departments. This school bond is focused on ensuring good financial stewardship by taking care of the facilities we have and carefully setting the stage for expected growth in the next 10 years.

I support a YES-vote.

Comprehensive long-term capital planning is urgent

APS will return to adopting a multi-year FY 2022 CIP in June 2021 to address projected enrollment growth.

I am encouraged by new APS Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán’s stated intention to shape future capital planning by including the implementation of the newly adopted equity policy and the instructional pathways program vision.

At the September 24 School Board meeting, Dr. Durán correctly committed (at 3:29:30–3:30:25) to:

  • make decisions that are sustainable and do not create future problems in the CIP and future boundaries;
  • move forward in a way that creates equitable options and puts instruction front and center;
  • shift to making decisions more holistically.

In this spirit of critically necessary reforms, we need to continue to urge APS to take a long-term view in capital planning in the context of as-yet unknown COVID-19 impacts, shifting student populations, equity demands and coherent academic programs spanning K-12.

We can expect to see some costs that were delayed due to budgetary uncertainty return to the CIP including joint County-APS facilities and fields maintenance. We need to continue to demand more ongoing vigilance on the subjects of air quality, facility cleaning and adaptation to possible ongoing distancing demands.

As I wrote in June, we also must look holistically at APS and county operations together across separate APS and county bureaucratic silos, and produce re-prioritized operating plans.

Additional long-term challenges and opportunities include:

  • long-term incorporation of online schooling and impacts both on building capacity needs and IT accessibility countywide;
  • transportation capacity (# busses, capacity per bus, bus parking and maintenance, routing complexity and agility, coordination with ART and Metrobus);
  • provision for parking at new facilities and attendant traffic mitigation;
  • recognition of the critical role APS plays in providing childcare and food support in the economy;
  • final adoption (jointly with the county) of a long-term (10-15 yr.) plan designating the specific sites for new school seats at all grade levels.

Conclusion

Vote YES on the 2020 School Bond. Urge Dr. Durán to lead regarding comprehensive long-term capital planning.

* Planning and design funds are not designated to a specific project, but are the soft costs which generally comprise up to 20% of total project costs and may include site studies, bidding and contracting, design and engineering expenses.

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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