by Airey March 26, 2019 at 10:00 am 0

Outdoor Lab, an educational facility that serves Arlington students, is fighting for funding after Arlington’s superintendent proposed cutting the outdoor science program out of next year’s budget.

About 10,000 APS students visit the 225-acre site in Fauquier County each year for lessons on biology, earth science, and astronomy, per its website. The Lab is owned by the non-profit Arlington Outdoor Education Association and also provides students some overnight and summer programs.

Now program staff are urging parents to contact officials on their behalf because Superintendent Patrick Murphy has proposed eliminating funding for Lab staff and bus rides to the program as part of the $8.9 million in cuts he floated to balance his $662.7 million budget proposal for the school’s next fiscal year.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia gave the same response to ARLnow’s request for comment as he did for the debate last week over the superintendent cutting crew for the county’s high schools.

“The Superintendent and APS does not want to take any of the proposed budget reductions. To present a proposed budget that was balanced, however, $8.9 million in reductions had to be proposed,” Bellavia said in the statement, adding that “instructional programs” were prioritized.

“You know the Outdoor Lab is a special place for seeing science come to life, taking a hike in the woods, and sleeping in a tent under the stars,” wrote Arlington Outdoor Education Association President Todd Parker in his plea to parents to contact the County and School Board on the program’s behalf.

“The Lab is a unique resource for students in Arlington Public Schools,” Parker wrote. “We need your voice to help ensure the Lab continues to serve thousands of Arlington students next school year.”

Eliminating funding for the Lab would save APS about $700,000, according to Murphy’s budget proposal.

The $8.9 million in total budget reductions proposed by the superintendent can be reduced if the county adds more money to the APS budget during deliberations next month.

The facility celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016 by raising $84,000 for capital improvements, exceeding its $50,000 fundraising goal. The Outdoor Lab has previously said APS’ rising enrollment is squeezing its capacity.

The superintendent’s full comment about the budget cut proposal is below.

The Superintendent and APS does not want to take any of the proposed budget reductions.  To present a proposed budget that was balanced, however, $8.9 million in reductions had to be proposed.  Staff focused on preserving our instructional programs and the critical support provided to schools, students and families, but many difficult decisions had to be made about possible reductions.  We continue to hope that the APS budget will be fully funded by Arlington County Government through funding strategies including an increase in the tax rate.

by Mark Kelly March 19, 2019 at 2:30 pm 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Apparently, there is a rumor being spread in our schools that staff positions are being cut next year because of the most recent vote of the County Board “to give $23 million to Jeff Bezos.” Whether you agree with Arlington’s decision to give incentives to Amazon or not, the claim deserves further examination.

First, the money being granted to Amazon comes by way of an increase in transient occupancy tax revenue which is being attributed to Amazon’s arrival. It amounts to $22.7 million over 16 years out of a total of $342.3 million in new tax dollars estimated to be generated by Amazon. It is not $23 million being given away out of next year’s budget. Moreover, if the estimates are correct, over the long haul APS will receive even more funding than it otherwise would without Amazon’s presence.

Second, nearly half of that money is anticipated to go to Amazon in years 13-16. That means the impact of the Amazon grants on the total budget for next year is minimal, even less so when weighed against another closeout windfall APS is almost certainly guaranteed to receive in November.

Third, the APS budget is increasing by 4.9% to $671.6 million next year or $23,569 per student. Proposing any reductions in current positions is nothing more than a reflection of the Superintendent’s priorities in light of a healthy and growing budget.

I have written against Tax Increment Financing in the past as I prefer to have any project stand on its own funding merits when weighed against other priorities. This is particularly true as we have had a history of borrowing to pay for basic infrastructure maintenance, and we have the continued need to address increasing school enrollment. I would also prefer that policy changes directly benefit all Arlington businesses, existing and new. However, the claim that Jeff Bezos is to blame for any cut in Superintendent Murphy’s 2020 budget proposal is misleading at best.

If you want more facts, for or against the Amazon deal, you can read the full County Board report. Page 13 of the staff presentation also has a graph which shows the long term revenue growth and the amount being given to Amazon.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Alex Koma March 1, 2019 at 9:00 am 0

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington schools will likely face class size increases and could see some staff layoffs next year under terms laid out in Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.

Murphy delivered his first draft of a new spending plan for fiscal year 2020 to the School Board last night (Thursday), arguing that even the tax increases proposed by the County Board won’t be enough to help the school system avoid some spending cuts. The school system is preparing to open three new schools next year to cope with persistently rising enrollment levels, which Murphy expects will create another challenging budget year for county schools.

Much like the county government’s own financial picture, sketched out in earnest by County Manager Mark Schwartz late last week, Arlington Public Schools’ budget picture is still a bit more promising than it appeared this fall. School officials initially warned that they could be facing a $43 million budget gap next year, a deficit that Murphy says could’ve been the largest one for APS in the last 30 years, if not the school system’s history.

However, rising real estate assessments filled county coffers a bit more than officials anticipated, easing some concerns. And Murphy was glad to see, too, that Schwartz proposed 1.5-cent real estate tax increase largely designed to meet school needs, and the superintendent built his budget using that increase as a base.

But even if the County Board approves that tax hike, Murphy says the school system will face cuts. He built a series of spending trims into his plans, most notably the reduction of 23 staff positions, bumping up class sizes slightly.

“It’s a tough year, there’s a lot of things happening,” Murphy told a group of reporters and school leaders in a budget briefing Thursday. “But given where we are and the things that are happening, I thought that was prudent.”

Plans call for grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil per class increase, and high schools will see a .5 student per class increase.

The School Board narrowly avoided that outcome last year, thanks largely to some one-time funding from the county. But Murphy says he fully expects the county’s own money troubles, driven by a still-high office vacancy rate and rising Metro expenses, means that the school system might not be so lucky this time around.

The proposed cuts total about $10.1 million in all. That will include moving $5.28 million in one-time money to cover construction and maintenance funding, rather than using ongoing funds.

Murphy says he may need to make another $8.9 million in cuts to balance the budget, if the County Board doesn’t approve a tax increase over and above Schwartz’s proposal. He did not say, however, just how of large of a tax hike would meet the school system’s needs.

The Board signed off on advertising a 2.75-cent increase last weekend, setting the ceiling for any potential tax rate it may adopt throughout the budget process. Officials can always lower the rate beyond the one advertised, but can’t raise it.

Board members agreed to that higher rate largely over concerns that schools would need more cash, and Murphy says those concerns were well founded. Without more cash from the county, Murphy expects that cuts to APS central office staff would be necessary, in addition to some transportation and benefit changes, the introduction of new and increased fees and delays to student support programs.

“I hope we don’t have to go there,” Murphy said.

And should the Board decline to raise taxes at all, rejecting Schwartz’s proposed increase, Murphy says he’ll need to make an additional $11.1 in cuts, prompting even more layoffs. However, he said he’s “optimistic” that the Board will avoid that outcome.

Depending on the county’s budget, Murphy also warned that the school system could tinker with its plans for bumping up employee pay rates this year.

Currently, Murphy hopes to order a fifth straight “step increase,” moving eligible employees up the school system’s pay scale commensurate with experience. But he also wants to follow through on long-held plans to raise pay for instructional assistants, bus drivers and bus attendants, arguing that the changes are necessary to keep APS “competitive in the region.”

“It’s a competitive environment out there,” Murphy said.

Those changes will cost APS $12.9 million in all, though Murphy cautioned that “whether we build in that direction this year, or build there in the future” will be dependent on how much money the county sends the school system.

One budget line that will remain unchanged, Murphy says, is the $10.1 million the school system will spend to afford both one-time and ongoing costs associated with opening three new schools next year and repurposing two others.

Alice West Fleet Elementary, Dororthy Hamm Middle and The Heights Building (housing the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs) will all open next year. APS will also move the Montessori program currently at Drew Model School into its own building (formerly Patrick Henry Elementary) and convert Drew into a full neighborhood school.

APS will also need to keep up with an expected enrollment bump of about 1,059 students next year, roughly the same level of enrollment growth the school system has seen over the last decade. That will require about $8.73 million in spending to manage, and the addition of 83 employees.

“There’s a very clear reason we’re in this situation: more families are moving here, more businesses are moving here,” Murphy said. “We must be doing something right.”

The County and School Boards will now spend the next several weeks debating their competing budgets.

The School Board will finalize its proposed budget to send on to the county by April 11, then the County Board will pass its budget by the end of the month. The School Board will then adopt its final budget by May 9.

by Bridget Reed Morawski March 27, 2018 at 10:45 am 0

Some Arlington Public Schools parents are unhappy with proposed budget cuts that would lead to fewer weekly world language instructional hours.

The proposed 2019 APS budget includes a number of reductions that aim to resolve the “$16 million in reductions this year in the face of our continuing growing enrollment needs,” wrote APS assistant superintendent Linda Erdos in an email to ARLnow.

The budget proposal includes the following FLES, or Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools, teacher reductions:

€The planning factor formula for FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools) teachers is changed. This results in a reduction of 11.5 FLES teacher positions as follows: a 0.50 reduction each at Abington, Arlington Science Focus, Arlington Traditional, Ashlawn, Barrett, Drew, Carlin Springs, Henry, Jamestown, Long Branch, McKinley, Discovery, Nottingham, Oakridge, Randolph, Taylor and Tuckahoe and a 1.0 reduction each at Glebe, Claremont, and Key. The new planning factor allocates a 0.5 teacher up to 100 students, a 1.0 teacher for 101 to 215 students, a 1.5 teacher for 216 to 340 students, a 2.0 teacher for 341 to 470 students, 2.5 teachers for 471 to 610 students, and 3.0 teachers for 611 to 770 students, and 3.5 teachers for 771 to 930 students.

Instructional time would be reduced alongside the staff reductions.

“Staff will work out the model and schedules with principals so it’s equitable for all elementary schools,” wrote Erdos.

One Arlington parent, Kelly Alexis, emailed those she referred to as “Friends of FLES,” imploring that they take time to support the program by contacting School Board members themselves and asking for more information as to how this cut was agreed upon.

Alexis also sent the following email to School Board members regarding the potential reduction:

Dear School Board Members,

I am certain that all of you share the goal of providing equitable and quality education to our elementary school children, though I do not see a unified vision.

Looking at the proposed cuts that include FLES, Arts and more, and hearing School Board members question the need for such programs, it is clear to me there is no unified vision or focus on instruction for our youngest learners and as a whole for APS. When the need for FLES is questioned even though APS has set as a strategic goal to have APS students proficient in two languages upon graduation we have an instructional management issue.

More cuts in instruction will not solve this problem, ignoring the need for ES students to have exposure to World Language will not improve test scores.

What is the School Board’s instructional vision? The Superintendents proposed budget’s FY19 Elementary School priorities are disturbing and miss the “whole child”, social and emotional well being and World Language completely, how does that even happen?* As a county we can easily put ourselves in the position to pit program against program though it will take a School Board with vision and fortitude to stick with its own strategic goals meeting the essential and basic needs of our students and ensuring that program are delivered with consistency and equity.

APS or School Board members must be able to explain to the community how they have evaluated every proposed budget addition or budget cut against that vision, and how they have arrived at each of their decisions in the context of that vision. You cannot continue to cut staff and access to language instruction without communicating how these actions “refine” and I assume improve (how?) World Language delivery as stated in the budget.

We cannot throw out or reduce programs such as FLES due to arbitrary questions without looking at the facts. Putting FLES against recess is ridiculous and short sighted, why not provide both? If we are going to throw out programs due to inconsistent feedback and program delivery then 1:1 should be at the top of the list. Lets review the data and look at the best practies set forth by ACTFL and see how we measure up to meet the needs of our World Language goals.

We must provide APS students appropriate resources to ensure safe learning environments, strong social emotional supports and instruction that is developmentally appropriate and evidence based. We know early exposure to language provides tremendous learning benefits, its proven with years of study. World Language acquisition is a vital skill and early exposure is essential.

We know that many APS programs are not perfect, though I feel APS is not trying hard enough and this budget process is showing true colors on priorities – SOL’s and devices in young hands prevail while humanities and Art take a back seat.

Our youngest learners deserve better and APS owes us an explanation NOW, before you cut staff and vital instructional programs through this budget process, of what your vision is in regards to FLES, 1:1 and instruction overall that does not involve an SOL test score.

Thank you for your time,
Kelly Alexis

The School Board has one remaining work session to discuss and make changes to the proposed budget, on Tuesday, April 3. The School Board is set to adopt the proposed budget at the School Board meeting on Thursday, April 5.

File photo

by Bridget Reed Morawski February 23, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

Class sizes at Arlington Public Schools may increase as the school system continues to see rising enrollment.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy proposed a fiscal year 2019 budget of $636.7 million at Thursday’s School Board meeting. That’s an increase of 3.8 percent from the 2018 budget, lower than the 5.4 percent increase from 2017 in to 2018. Murphy said APS is facing the same budget pressures as the county, which is projecting only a modest increase in tax revenue.

Class sizes will increase slightly under the proposed school budget, with grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil increase, and high schoolers will see a .5 student increase.

The cost per pupil, as proposed, is down $105, dropping from $19,340 to $19,235.

The budget will again include a step increase in salary for all eligible employees and a further raise for employees, like assistants and bus drivers, who aren’t already earning market rate salaries.

Compensation step increases will cost $9.7 million in 2019, and “salary adjustments” will cost $2.2 million.

The majority of the budget, 77.7 percent, will go toward salaries and benefits. The next largest expenditure will be debt service, at 9.1 percent, as APS continues to build and expand schools to keep up with enrollment. The cost of materials and supplies will take up 3.4 percent of the budget.

Murphy emphasized that as Arlington Public Schools is on pace to grow to 30,000 students by 2021, “we’ve got to begin to think about a sustainable future.”

The schools are projected to add 2,200 children per class year starting in 2019. In 2019, enrollment growth related expenses, like staffing and supplies, will cost $5.82 million. Several new schools on targeted to open for the fall 2019 semester, according to Murphy.

“Many of the decisions that we have made are not my preference, are not where we want to be,” Murphy said before his presentation to the School Board, noting his desire to balance the needs of an increased enrollment with employee compensation and continued funding for 2017 and 2018 initiatives.

“These were tough decisions that we needed to make.”

Projected expenditures initially exceeded projected revenue by $16.5 million. Additional revenue and use of reserve funds scraped together $6.5 million, and expenditure reductions and service changes — like changes in elementary school foreign language programming — brought in an additional $10 million to address the shortfall.

APS also found other creative ways to address its budget gap, including joining an Apple program that will buy back used iPads and laptops, generating about $1 million in revenue.

Among other ways to weigh in on the budget, residents can email Arlington Public Schools ([email protected]) with feedback. The School Board will be holding budget work sessions and hearings in February and March, ahead of its final budget adoption.

by ARLnow.com February 27, 2014 at 6:55 pm 3,103 0

APS superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy gives his FY 2015 budget briefing(Updated at 9:00 p.m.) The proposed FY 2015 Arlington Public Schools budget funds an increase in enrollment without increasing class sizes, but includes cuts to alternative high school programs.

The $539.4 million budget — a 3.1 percent year-over-year increase — also provides a cost-of-living salary increase for APS teachers, launches a new early literacy initiative and funds an APS-provided take-home iPad for every 2nd grader and a Google Chromebook for every 6th grader.

APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy presented his proposed budget to the Arlington School Board Thursday night. It’s the beginning of a process that will culminate with the School Board’s final budget adoption on May 8.

Murphy’s budget includes $7.3 million in cuts and “efficiencies.” APS expects to save $1.6 million by merging the Langston High School continuation program into Arlington Mill High School (located at the Arlington Career Center) and by reducing day classes offered to students over the age of 22.

“I understand the commitment of the community to provide this option for adults,” Murphy said. “But in these challenging budget times… one of my concerns remain core services for children who are school-aged and on the K-12 continuum.”

Murphy also proposes saving $800,000 via cuts to special education assistants and $1.1 million by eliminating library assistants from elementary schools. Another $200,000 will be saved by reducing non-mandated elementary school field trips.

Because the school system is growing, Murphy says APS employees impacted by the cuts will be transferred to other roles instead of being laid off.

A chart showing APS class sizes, illustrating increased enrollment at lower grade levelsAPS expects school enrollment to increase by about 800 students in the coming school year, from 23,316 to 24,153. That will cost APS $9.8 million for the hiring of teachers, acquisition of textbooks and materials, and for relocatable classrooms, furniture and technology. Another $300,000 will go to hiring four additional bus drivers and a route coordinator. Murphy’s budget keeps class sizes the same, but the cost per pupil will increase, from $18,678 to $19,244.

The proposed budget includes the beginning of a number of significant initiatives.

Starting in the fall, every 2nd grader will be issued an Apple iPad and every 6th grader will be issued a Google Chromebook. All 2,150 iPads and 1,650 Chromebooks will be internet-accessible at school (via WiFi) and students will be able to take them home. Officials say the computers will be leased and the cost in FY 2015 will be $200,000. Dubbed the 1:1 Initiative, APS expects to gradually expand the program to every grade level, with 3rd and 7th grades next in line.

Fiscal Year 2015 will be the first year of a three-year goal to eliminate early release days and to spread foreign language programs (FLES) to all elementary schools. Two of the seven schools with early release days will have the early release eliminated under Murphy’s budget, thus providing additional instruction time for FLES. It’s yet to be determined which two schools will be chosen.

A third major initiative in Murphy’s budget is early literacy. Murphy hopes to boost reading levels for those in two grade categories — PreK-2 and 3-6 — via investments in technology, summer reading programs and professional development for teachers.

“I feel a real responsibility that we need to build in that area,” Murphy said of the literacy initiative.

(more…)

by ARLnow.com April 23, 2013 at 5:40 pm 0

Arlington Public Schools logoThe new Arlington Public Schools proposed budget includes less money for minor construction and major maintenance, after the Arlington County Board approved a smaller tax increase than was sought by the School Board.

The School Board had asked for an additional 0.5 cent tax increase dedicated to school funding, in addition to the County Manager’s proposed 3.2 cent tax increase. In the end, the County Board approved a 3.5 cent increase, only 0.3 cents more than the manager’s proposal — and that increase will be split by the county and the school system.

With an earlier version of its proposed budget now facing a shortfall of $1.4 million, the School Board cut about $600,000 from the minor construction/major maintenance fund, and another $600,000 from the school system’s reserve fund. Even with the cuts, however, the maintenance and construction fund and the reserve fund are both set to receive more than $7 million apiece in the budget.

Arlington County school busesIn a move expected to make parents happy, the new budget includes more funding for transportation.

Last week Arlington Public School parents were informed in a letter that all currently enrolled students who were eligible for bus service this year will remain eligible in the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

In order to maintain bus service while the school system adds nearly 1,000 additional students, APS is expected to add 10 new full-time positions to its transportation services department. The transportation budget will increase by about $1.75 million in Fiscal Year 2014, compared to FY 2013. All told, the FY 2014 proposed budget for transportation is $16.1 million.

The transportation budget boost comes after hundreds of parents protested changes to the busing policy at the beginning of this school year. The changes — intended to allow the school system to stop adding buses and drivers to its fleet — backfired when impacted parents complained bitterly about their children no longer being allowed to ride the bus to and from school.

The Arlington School Board is holding a public budget work session tonight (April 23) starting at 6:00 p.m. The School Board is expected to approve a final budget at its meeting on May 2.

by ARLnow.com February 27, 2012 at 12:05 pm 5,990 86 Comments

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy’s proposed FY 2013 budget includes an across-the-board increase in maximum class sizes and a small raise for all APS employees.

At $493.8 million, the proposed budget is a 3.9 percent increase over FY 2012. The increase reflects, among other things, a 2 percent increase in the APS salary scales — Dr. Murphy says the increase is a reflection of the “cost of competing” with other Northern Virginia school systems for quality teachers and staff — and 3.9 percent growth in student enrollment.

Student enrollment is projected to jump by 857 students, from 21,841 to 22,698. APS calculates that growing enrollment will cost $1.8 million for the purchase of 16 new relocatable classrooms and $2.2 million in additional staffing costs. Though the overall budget is flat in terms of per-student spending, the official “per pupil” cost — as calculated under a set formula that differs from just looking at the overall budget — will actually increase from $18,047 to $18,400.

Helping to offset otherwise higher costs of enrollment is Dr. Murphy’s proposal to increase the maximum allowable class size for all K-12 classes by one student. Though he admits that it’s “a tough decision” that is likely to be of concern to many parents, Dr. Murphy is quick to point out that the increase in the maximum class size will not automatically increase the size of every class. Instead, it will primarily affect classes that were already at the maximum.

Murphy also noted that the current proposal to transition middle schools to block scheduling is not “not designed at all” to impact class sizes.

In addition to the salary increase, the new budget factors in investments in professional learning for teachers, the purchase of new science textbooks, and the purchase of new classroom and enterprise technology. APS is also planning on spending more this year as a result of lost federal grants, the need for more reserve funds, and rising costs associated with paying off the debt incurred for recently-built schools.

Dr. Murphy listed a number of “unfunded instructional needs” that the budget does not address. Included in that list of unmet goals is an expansion of foreign language classes in elementary schools, an expansion of Virginia Preschool Initiative and Montessori classes, a salary “step increase” for teachers, and additional textbook purchases.

“This budget is a fiscally responsible proposal,” Dr. Murphy said in a statement. “Even though this budget does not fund all of our needs, I have no doubt that we will do what APS always does. We will be guided by our strategic plan, our high expectations for students and our commitment to providing students with everything they need to succeed in school and in life.”

In additional to several budget work sessions in March, a public hearing on the school budget will be held on April 12. The final budget adoption by the school board is scheduled for April 26.

by Peter Rousselot March 6, 2019 at 2:30 pm 0

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.

On Feb. 23, the Arlington County Board voted to advertise a 2.75-cent real estate tax-rate increase for calendar year 2019.

As ARLnow.com reported:

“Board members hoped to add an extra penny to the tax rate beyond Schwartz’s proposal, generating an extra $7.8 million to dedicate specifically to schools.”

Since APS already receives about 47 cents out of every locally generated tax-revenue dollar, under its revenue sharing agreement with the county, APS will automatically receive about $5.5 million from the 1.5-cent tax-rate increase originally recommended by the County Manager.

If the full, advertised 2.75-cent tax-rate increase were to be approved, generating an estimated total of $21.4 million, APS would receive $13.3 million — 62 percent of the additional tax revenue being generated.

The 2.75-cent tax-rate increase, if adopted, will be applied on top of higher 2019 home assessments, an average increase of 2.9 percent. For example, a home assessed at $800,000 in 2018 accrued an $8,048 real-estate tax bill; that home would be assessed at $823,200 in 2019, and the tax bill would grow to $8,508.

The advertised tax-rate increase exposes an unresolved structural problem

For purposes of this column, I won’t discuss such important issues as whether the County Board should have advertised a lower tax rate in order to impose greater fiscal discipline. Nor will I discuss whether any specific APS operating-budget expenditure is justified.

In designating 62 percent of new revenue (generated by the 2.75-cent advertised tax-rate increase) to APS (even though APS is entitled to receive only about 47 percent of locally generated tax revenues), the County Board is tacitly acknowledging that APS’s operating budget, as currently structured, is growing faster than the county’s own operating budget.

But neither the School Board nor the County Board are publicly acknowledging or explaining the long-term fiscal impact of APS’s operating-budget growth. Instead, both boards continue to treat APS’s relentless budgetary increases as one-time events that require a simple one-time fix. Or, as APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy put it recently, “take a breath, look at this one year, and see if these patterns begin to play themselves out over a long period of time.”

We can already see how these “patterns” are playing out in our tax bills. Let’s examine some of the future implications.

Long-term enrollment growth = long-term budget growth

The latest APS enrollment projections released on Jan. 24 expect enrollment to swell from the current 26,400 students to 33,000 by 2028, an increase of 25 percent. Under Superintendent Murphy’s proposed FY2020 budget, presented to the School Board on Feb. 28, APS’s per-pupil expenditure is estimated to be $20,012.

If that $20,012 per-pupil expenditure level remains constant, it will add $132,079,200 to APS’s operating budget by 2028 — solely to support the 6,600-student increase in APS enrollment.

Below are some figures that help explain the significance of this $132,079,200 increase in APS operating costs, attributable solely to enrollment growth:

  • It will require an additional tax-rate increase of at least 17 cents — so a home assessed at $800,000 in 2018 (and $823,200 in 2019) will have a tax bill of at least $9,907 in 2028, even if there were NO additional assessment growth (highly unlikely) between 2019 and 2028.
  • If assessments grow by an average of 3 percent per year from 2019 through 2028, the tax bill on that home will increase to $12,879 by 2028.

Conclusion

On its current trajectory, the APS operating budget will, over the next 10 years:

  • shift tens of millions of dollars away from other essential county services and
  • require painful, annual tax-rate increases solely to fund school enrollment growth.

Both County and School Boards must publicly acknowledge this reality now, before a fiscal crisis occurs. Continuing to pretend each year that school budget increases are unique, one-time events is untenable. The two boards must publicly:

  • acknowledge the long-term budgetary consequences of enrollment growth on the county’s own budget and
  • engage the community in an honest dialogue about the difficult trade-offs and choices that must be made in order to stabilize spending and put Arlington’s operating budgets on a long-term sustainable footing.

A reality-driven plan of action is the only way to safeguard Arlington’s financial stability, protect the most vulnerable members of our community and maintain a reasonable quality of life for Arlington residents.

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.

by Peter Rousselot November 30, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

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.

In the last segment of its November 28 work session, the School Board discussed a proposed “Framework” for its forthcoming FY 2019-28 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). APS will begin formal planning for its new CIP in January.

Discussion

Given competing demands on Arlington County’s budget, APS’ leadership must adopt a much more cost-conscious approach at every stage of its capital budgeting processes. New enrollment growth projections are now expected in mid-December.

There have been some glimmers of hope.

At an Board meeting earlier this year, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy acknowledged that he was “hearing from the community some concern about the CIP,” and that for future new school construction projects “there will be three flavors of budgets: Low, Medium and High.” (See video between 1:37:30 and 1:40:25.)

Murphy’s new approach needs to be very closely scrutinized to be sure that the 3 flavors of budgets are not “high, higher, and highest.”

Another glimmer of hope arises from the decision by the School Board’s internal auditor to examine how APS’ school construction costs compare to those in other jurisdictions. But, the auditor’s work product also will need close scrutiny, as the Sun-Gazette recently editorialized:

We’re hopeful that the auditor’s report on construction provides a true window into reality, not a whitewashed look by focusing on a narrow cadre of school districts with similar spending mentalities.

There are several things we must do together as a community to ensure that APS:

  • does provide the best fiscally-prudent new seats for our students, but
  • does not continue to spend money on capital projects “like the spigot would never run dry”

First, the County Board needs to be clear regarding how much capital spending will be available to APS in each of the ten years in the next CIP.

Second, as construction costs rise, School Board members must become much more proactive with their own staff by insisting upon cost-consciousness and new strategies in building construction and renovation.

Third, we need reformed civic engagement processes in which the public can weigh in early enough concerning a manageable number of budget-driving alternative options. We cannot continue with processes in which citizens or staff are enabled to add one feature after another, never being told what the costs of doing so are nor that APS can afford X or Y but not both.

Recently, a very savvy schools’ activist shared with me her kitchen-table solution for the problems with APS’ past approach to school construction and renovation:

For our home renovation, my husband and I decided on our total budget for the renovation FIRST, then as we were designing the house with the architect, we kept insisting on getting some high-level price estimates so we could decide if we wanted to continue going down [that] path.  

With APS, they do have some high-level planning with the CIP to set some general parameters for budget, but it’s my perception that it’s been the norm to involve the public through various engagement processes, like Building Level Planning Committees, completely disassociating it with any cost estimates/total budget, and of course, very few people are making cost-conscious suggestions when it’s treated as Wish Lists with open checkbooks.  

Conclusion

In the past, School Board members too frequently have rationalized high construction and renovation costs.

Now they need a new attitude: we can do more for less money.

by Heather Mongilio July 8, 2015 at 3:45 pm 0

APS app homepage

Despite budget cuts, Arlington Public Schools may get to keep its mobile app after all.

The school system originally planned to cut the app on July 1, in order to shrink its budget. The app cost about $12,000 a year to maintain, said Linda Erdos, APS assistant superintendent.

The app, which launched two years ago, allowed parents to view messages from APS’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts and gave them quick links to APS sites like the Family Access Center, MySchool Bucks, the APS directory and lunch menus.

“The app was intended for those who prefer the convenience of receiving and checking information and notifications on their mobile device through a single application,” Erdos said.

APS was ready to stop the app when fate intervened: Parent Link, the company that built the app, was bought by Blackboard, a company that provides an online platform for assignments, grades and communication between students and teachers. Blackboard, APS recently found out, was willing to give them a sweet deal.

“Because we are already a customer with Blackboard for School Talk and these other educational web-based solutions, Blackboard has offered to include the app into our current contract for APS School Talk as an added feature at no cost to APS,” Erdos said.

APS is still waiting confirmation from Blackboard before announcing that the app will continue, Erdos said.

If the contract does go through, the app will not look any different.

“Blackboard won’t do anything different with the app,” she said. “Based on what they have proposed, since Blackboard now owns Parent Link, they will continue to support the availability of our app, and will support APS staff if changes are needed.”

Photo via screenshot

by Airey March 22, 2019 at 3:45 pm 0

(Updated at 5:05 p.m.) Parents and Arlington Public Schools are at odds over funding high school crew, and whether the sport should be left to sink among system-wide budget cuts.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s $662.7 million budget proposal for the school’s next fiscal year budget proposes $8.9 million in cuts, though those cuts could be scaled back should the county increase its funding transfer to the school system.

Among the proposed cuts is eliminating money for high school rowing teams, a decision sparking criticism from parents who argue the sport helps their children’s development.

School spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow today (Friday) that APS did not want to propose any cuts, and continues to hope the county will find to “fully fund” the school’s budget. The county would save $120,000 by cutting crew, according to Murphy’s budget.

In the event that cuts have to happen, Bellavia said the Superintendent’s Office chose to prioritize “our instructional programs and the critical support provided to schools, students and families.”

A petition asking APS to keep funding crew has gained over 1,300 signatures in the last five days.

The petition argues that teams at Wakefield, Yorktown, and the recently-renamed Washington-Liberty, promote “wellness” and “reduce stress and anxiety.” The petition states that “in the current climate where we see an uptick in anxiety and depression among kids and an increase in obesity and sedentary lifestyles, we should not be cutting support for programs that help improve students’ lives.”

Many parents that signed touted the benefits of physical fitness and mental tenacity the sport gave their children, with several noting that crew offers equal opportunities to girls and boys.

“My daughter is short stature, she physically can’t participate in high school sports such as softball or lacrosse because it’s too dangerous. Her short stature is embraced as a coxswain,” one petition signer wrote on Wednesday.

W-L crew coach Wilson DeSousa also signed the petition, writing that in his years teaching the sport to APS high schoolers he’s seen it has “changed their lives and made them stronger young adults. Readied then for life through the hard work and challenges of being part of a team.”

Former crew members, several of them APS alumni, also signed the petition and shared what the sport meant to them.

“This is a wonderful sport which was THE best part of my high school experience,” a W-L alum wrote on Thursday. “Please keep supporting crew for kids who need it!”

County officials originally warned APS could be facing a $43 million budget gap next year, which Murphy said would have been the largest budget deficit for the school system in its entire history. County Manager Mark Schwartz later revised the estimate thanks to unexpected real estate assessment growth and lower-than-expected employee healthcare costs.

However, the increases are not enough to offset APS deficit, meaning some spending cuts are still needed. Murphy said earlier this month he expects to cut 23 staff positions due to the budget cuts, which will increase class sizes slightly next year. The budget also eliminates funding for some local travel, field trip travel, and laboratory collaboration.

“There’s a very clear reason we’re in this situation: more families are moving here, more businesses are moving here,” Murphy said at the time. “We must be doing something right.”

The Arlington School Board is set to vote on the final APS budget on April 11.

The full statement on cutting crew from Superintendent Patrick Murphy is below.

The Superintendent and APS does not want to take any of the proposed budget reductions. To present a proposed budget that was balanced, however, $8.9 million in reductions had to be proposed. Staff focused on preserving our instructional programs and the critical support provided to schools, students and families, but many difficult decisions had to be made about possible reductions. We continue to hope that the APS budget will be fully funded by Arlington County Government through funding strategies including an increase in the tax rate.

Photo via Yorktown Crew

by Airey March 22, 2019 at 12:00 pm 0

(Updated at 1 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is asking for residents’ feedback on its bus “service, policies and procedures” as part of a comprehensive review scheduled this spring.

The school system’s Department of Multimodal Transportation Planning is helming the review, which will address issues including budget, congestion, and rising enrollment, per the announcement.

Arlingtonians are invited to a series of workshops in March and April to share their thoughts in person:

  • Monday, March 25 at Wakefield (1325 S. Dinwiddie Street)
  • Wednesday, March 27 at Yorktown (5200 Yorktown Blvd)
  • Wednesday, April 3 at Washington-Liberty (1301 N. Stafford Street)
  • Saturday, April 6 at Patrick Henry (701 S. Highland Street)

Participants will also have an opportunity to submit comments online in a questionnaire scheduled to be released this month, per the APS announcement.

“Whether your student currently rides a bus or you would like to know how bus eligibility is determined, or your student used to ride the bus or may ride the bus in the future, we’d like to hear from you,” APS said, noting that the last time APS held a top-down review of its bus system was in 2005.

Some adjustments have been made since then, such as trying to shore up attendance on buses in 2012 with a voucher system.

APS is also conducting a public survey with the county until Thursday, April 4 to overhaul the industrial lot where its school buses are stored. The 38-acre “Trades Center” lot has struggled with overcrowding for years, officials say, leading APS to shift some school vehicles over to the “Buck site” on 1425 N. Quincy Street starting last year.

Flickr pool photo by afagan

by Peter Rousselot March 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm 0

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.

(Updated: 3/26/19) As ARLnow reported earlier this month, County Manager Mark Schwartz has proposed significant cuts to Arlington’s subsidies for various arts programs:

“Schwartz plans to close the Costume Lab and Scenic Studio Program located at the Gunston Community Center (2700 S. Lang Street), which provide[s] scenery construction space and costume rentals for local arts groups. That will involve laying off two employees who staff the programs, a savings of about $180,000 each year.

The manager also expects to cut funding for its arts grants program by a third, dropping it from about $216,000 to $146,000 annually. The program provides some matching funds to support local artists, and both [2018] County Board contenders [John Vihstadt & Matt de Ferranti] … pressed for increases to the fund.”

It’s commendable that Schwartz has attempted to work through the County budget, looking for excessive or unnecessary spending. Arlington’s poor track record regarding arts subsidies, including the Artisphere, the Signature Theatre bailout, and the Sewage Treatment Plant fence fiasco all show that arts subsidies remain a part of the budget that cries out for serious reforms.

But Janet Kopenhaver, Chair of the advocacy group Embracing Arlington Arts, also has a point when she highlights the magnitude of the cuts (about $500,000 out of $5.2 million) that the arts subsidy budget is being asked to absorb for FY 2020: “we remain stunned at the very high proportion the small arts budget is being asked to shoulder.”

Arlington needs a 21st century arts subsidy policy

The controversy over the Manager’s proposed cuts to Arlington’s arts subsidies exposes a larger problem: Arlington lacks a coherent 21st century arts subsidy policy–a set of easily understandable principles against which proposed cuts and proposed new spending alike can be measured.

Instead, Arlington has a confusing patchwork quilt of programs, initiatives, studies, task forces, and partial policies that make it impossible for the ordinary Arlington resident to understand when, how, and under what circumstances taxpayer money will be used or refused to promote the arts in Arlington.

Can you explain to the ordinary Arlington resident how these things fit together into a coherent statement regarding the principles County government will follow in subsidizing the arts?

A 21st century arts subsidy policy should reflect current fiscal realities

Arlington is facing a completely different fiscal environment in 2019 than it did in 1990, such as the capacity crisis in our public schools and our lack of adequate unprogrammed open green space for our surging population.

Current fiscal realities require that core services should receive priority

I strongly favor an appropriate level of continued County government public subsidies for the arts. But the arts are not a core government service in the same way as schools, parks, roads, sewers, and public safety. Because the arts are not core government services like these, the County Board should prioritize public spending for schools, parks, roads, sewers, and public safety. Is that what Mark Schwartz is doing with his proposed arts subsidy cuts? We can’t tell because we don’t have an easily understandable statement of arts subsidy principles against which to evaluate Schwartz’s proposed cuts.

Conclusion

After first utilizing the highest level of its public engagement guide, the Arlington County Board should adopt a 21st century arts subsidy policy.

Boston only adopted its impressive arts plan after a year-long public engagement period. Arlington should follow this public engagement example to determine the right balance for Arlington between private and public support for the arts.

Perhaps the County could create such a page by expanding the listing to include all other County subsidized arts activities that are NOT currently listed. To begin this critical, transparent community conversation, the County Board promptly should direct the County Manager to publish on one dedicated website a comprehensive, easily understandable listing of all current county-subsidized arts activities and the dollars they receive.

Arlington should not try to replicate arts options that are easily accessible elsewhere in the region. But maybe Goody’s could get its mural back.

by Airey March 14, 2019 at 4:30 pm 0

Metro is moving forward with its new budget, proposing sweeping service increases to bolster ridership with the need for a modest budget increase from Arlington.

The WMATA Board of Directors gave initial approval for the transit agency’s draft $3.5 billion, FY2020 budget during a meeting today (Thursday). The budget paves the way to start running Yellow Line trains to Greenbelt and Red Line trains all the way to Glenmont, eliminating the Silver Spring turn-back.

The budget asks Arlington to contribute $77.6 million to the agency’s operating budget, a $2.6 million increase from last year.

“Yellow and Red extensions help any Arlingtonians heading to those end points and expand the commute/travel shed into Arlington to accommodate growth in Pentagon City and Crystal City,” Metro Board member and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey told ARLnow after Thursday’s meeting.

“Better service helps us all,” said Dorsey.

Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed $45.6 million in the county’s next budget to be allocated to Metro’s operating budget, a $5 million increase from budget adopted last fiscal year. The remainder of the county’s $77.6 million in funding is from a small increase in the portion of the county’s capital improvement program (CIP) funds set aside for Metro.

Arlington County Board members advertised a 2.75-cent bump to the real estate tax in Arlington’s next fiscal budget, in part, to cover rising expenses at Metro.

The idea was Dorsey’s, who said the increased funds to Metro allowed the transit agency’s budget “to do more service, reduce the price of some fare pass products including on bus where ridership is cratering while having no fare increases and staying within legislatively mandated caps.”

The budget also included a small, $1 million proposal provide $3 subsidies for late-night rideshare trips that area workers take, now that Metrorail’s own late-night service is no more.

One uncertainty the transit agency’s budget continues to face is its ridership rates, which have now plummeted to a 20-year low. The budget banks on that number stabilizing this year, a result WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld hopes to achieve with the increased service.

Wiedefeld initially proposed even more sweeping service increases, including an expansion of rush-hour service, but the expense prompted consternation from county officials. Those proposals were ultimately stripped from the budget.

The budget proposal Board members approved Thursday did not include service cuts or fare increases. 

Metro Board member Corbett Price, representing D.C., thanked Dorsey at the end of the meeting for his “political leadership” in assembling the budget, reported WTOP.

“My only hope is people say such things about me when I’m dead,” joked Dorsey.

Metro Board members will convene again this month for a final vote on the budget, which goes into effect in June.

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