The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
As the pace of vaccinations accelerate and we anticipate a return to a more normal way of life, the County Board and School Board are making budget decisions for the upcoming fiscal year.
Here are seven recommendations for our elected officials as they move forward:
1. Arlington Public Schools should stay on track for five days per week, in-person learning this fall. The academic and mental health needs of the kids are abundantly clear and vaccinations are on track to alleviate the virus concerns.
2. The School Board should consider creating a blue ribbon panel to bring forward recommendations to improve academic achievement. The panel should not consider buildings or school boundaries, but how to put instruction plans in place to raise the level of achievement for all students within the current, robust, budget. And this should not be a report that simply goes up on a website. The School Board should require themselves to take an up or down vote on those recommendations.
3. The County Board should meet in person again as soon as possible. As soon as the board and a handful of key county staff receives vaccinations, they should be able to end their emergency meeting procedures and resume in person meetings. This would show leadership as we all look toward getting back to normalcy.
4. At the same time, the County Board should adjust its rules to allow for virtual public comment on an ongoing basis. This hybrid approach would allow maximum public participation in a process using technology that is already available to us.
5. The County Board should scrap any notion of a pay raise this year. Last year, the Board originally planned to boost their salaries by $10,000. Then they almost, inadvertently according to county staff, put a smaller one in the budget last Spring. If they want to resume discussions of an appropriate pay scale moving forward, 2022 is the year to have that discussion.
6. The County Board should scrub the budget for unnecessary spending items, like the implementation of rank choice voting, and look for a way to cut the property tax rate. (The Board will not cut the tax rate, but if they want to help the community get fully back to work as quickly as possible, they should.)
7. The County Board should add a family pass back into its residential parking program. Any family with a live-in grandparent or adult child living at home should be allowed to purchase at least one extra street parking pass. This plan would alleviate concerns about a rental house full of unrelated people putting four cars on the street while accommodating families who are essentially being told to suck it up by county staff.
And finally, our elected officials should challenge themselves to get through an entire meeting without using buzz words. “Equity” and “missing middle” come to mind. Instead, please focus on explaining in concrete terms what you mean, what you plan to do it about it, and how it will impact the average household.
Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.