Arlington, VA

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

Days of breathless coverage about books written and illustrated half a century ago is what fills in the 24-hour news cycle when the current president will not take questions from the press and a former president no longer has access to Twitter. In case you missed it though, Arlington’s schools will be fully open to hybrid in-person learning by next week.

While many parents are opting to keep their students at home, it will be the first time in a year most of our kids will have the option to return to school — even if it’s only two days a week. While it is inexcusable that it took one of the most well-funded school systems in the country an entire year to figure it out, here is to hoping we are back to five days a week in the fall.

Maybe the current state of our school leadership will inspire an independent candidate emerging from the parent community and challenging the all-Democrat control of the School Board? If not for the inability to better adapt to the pandemic, an independent voice would be able to start asking some tough questions.

To begin, why is the Superintendent pretending the current school year enrollment drop didn’t happen? According to his proposed budget, Arlington is projecting 29,653 students will enroll next fall after only 26,895 this year. Never mind the fact that enrollment projections were off by two percent in the fall of 2019 and 2018, this year they were off by ten percent. There were five percent fewer students enrolled than the year before instead of the projected five percent more.

The total proposed budget is $704.5 million, or a cost of $23,758 per projected student. If enrollment is off by just five percent again, the total per student cost would rise to $24,917. This would be nearly equal to the current $24,923 cost. Whatever the rationale for the spending levels, there should be a discussion about it. And, the School Board should stop pretending there are not plenty of resources available to get the job done for our kids.

One fish, two fish, red team, blue team. With the November federal elections a fading memory, we Virginians are starting to be reminded that we will have the opportunity to choose a new governor this year. Virginia has regularly, though not always, voted in the opposite party into the governor’s mansion than the one currently occupying the White House. The fields for the statewide offices are crowded in 2021, and Democrats will have to defend their record under unified government. Did they try to move the Commonwealth too far to the left? The voters will decide soon enough.

They probably will not like “Green Eggs and Ham.” The Sun Gazette ran an article this week about a Civic Federation initiative to study Arlington County governance. Should we try to become a city with a Mayor like Alexandria? Should there be more County Board members? Should we elect them by district? What should their pay be?

There is little doubt the County Board will dismiss any proposals, except for a pay raise, just as they did when Arlingtonians attempted to gather enough signatures to put a change of government question on the ballot in 2010. Like a decade ago, this Board has moved back into the mode of 5-0 votes where most of the real discussion goes on behind closed doors with county staff. They should be careful though: this insular thinking could open them up to another independent challenge very soon.

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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