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The Right Note: More Leadership Needed from the School Board

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

In response to School Board Member Reid Goldstein’s column yesterday, let’s talk about schools in Arlington.

First, here are some numbers to provide some perspective. The FY 2021 adopted budget was set to spend $670.3 million. When it was passed, the School Board projected enrollment at 29,142 — an increase of 1,122. The total cost per student was projected to be $23,001.

The official count for our closed school buildings enrollment on September 30th was actually 26,895 — a decrease of 1,125. The total cost per student for this school year is actually $24,923. Few school districts in the country match the resources of Arlington Public Schools.

Instead of talking about how the school board intended to use these resources to solve the current COVID challenges, Mr. Goldstein’s spent 710 words opining on the current buzzword on the left — “equity.” In fact, he did not mention COVID once in the entire piece. It reads as if it was written in January 2020, not January 2021.

At the end, Mr. Goldstein sums it up with these words, “Equity is the path to equality of opportunity for our students.” Providing equality of opportunity for our students is certainly something Mr. Goldstein can find agreement on across party lines. So how should we go about it?

Here are a couple simple suggestions for where Mr. Goldstein and the School Board can start.

Suggestion number one: Outline a plan to get our kids back to school in person as soon as possible.

Last spring, many of our kids received virtually no instruction between March and June. Teachers were not allowed to teach new curriculum. Grades were not given for the fourth quarter, not even on a pass fail basis. Assignments and class attendance were essentially optional.

Over the summer, parents were told our children would be able to return to school to begin the academic year. Then we were told it would be later in the fall. Then we were told it would be for the second semester. Now it looks increasingly unlikely that it will happen at all. The stress of the past three academic quarters is highest on parents who do not have the luxury of working from home during this pandemic.

There is no doubt that some children from all socio-economic backgrounds are not faring as well at learning in a virtual environment, and some are regressing. Studies show the academic results are the worst for the children who Mr. Goldstein professes to be the most concerned about.

After 10 months of virtual learning, certainly APS should have figured out how to return to the classroom by now. And the scientific studies suggest it can be done safely. It should be priorities one, two, and three.

Suggestion number two: Stop making excuses.

Mr. Goldstein suggests that Arlington County policies on density may be the reason our children are not receiving the equality of opportunity they deserve. However, APS is spending nearly $25,000 to educate each child in the county this year. And Arlington taxpayers have been funding our school system at generous levels for years.

If our current Arlington School Board cannot figure out how to achieve equality of opportunity with these funding levels, maybe we need new school board members?

Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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