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.


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 5,665 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 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.


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.  


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 Peter Rousselot March 8, 2018 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.

With the release of the APS Superintendent’s FY 2019 proposed $636.7M budget, it’s prudent to examine more closely APS’ model for delivering instruction since educating students should be APS’ primary function.

Has the educational mantra, “From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side”, gone too far in our APS classrooms today?

Today’s APS classrooms

Currently, every student in grades 2-12 possesses their own APS-issued iPad or MacBook Air purchased with our tax dollars. With these devices in every hand, has the internet become the new de facto teacher and content expert? Are our teachers’ roles being transformed into:

  • Facilitators of accessing online content?
  • Administrators of online assessments?
  • Managers of student work production?

In this new digital-learning age, will our teachers hold center stage, or defer to a student–issued device? Will our students be guinea pigs in untested teaching initiatives? Who is ultimately accountable for each student’s achievement and well-being? Has continuous internet access for every student become too big a crutch in our classrooms, leaving behind students who want and need a live person as their primary educational resource?

In sum, is APS on a trajectory to use technology to enhance our teachers’ instructional delivery, or to replace it?

Are we getting what we pay for?

77.7% of the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2019 budget (at p. 5) is attributed to salaries and benefits costs.

At $80,082, APS ranks second highest in Average Teacher Salaries according to the 2018 Washington Area Boards of Education (WABE) Guide (at pp. 5-15).

The Superintendent’s latest budget document should be reorganized in the transparent way necessary to enable the community to understand the full costs of technology use at every grade level.

Community concerns

In my own review of the many concerns about these issues expressed on social media by APS parents, I was particularly struck by comments like these:

“My child’s high school science class last year was entirely taught on the computers. It was not a distance learning class–the teacher was sitting in the classroom the whole time as the students watched video lectures. When students asked questions, the teacher referred them back to their computers. It was the most alienating experience and my child struggled to get interested in the subject. I think we have gone too far at APS.”

“I just heard a mom today compare her kid’s APS high school class to online courses with their APS lap top – YIKES.”


Our community needs to discuss these broader unanswered questions, not simply the current needlessly-narrow discussion regarding APS’ so-called “Acceptable Use Policy” relating to student-issued devices. We should be discussing all the broader educational and financial issues regarding how APS is using technology to deliver instruction at every grade level.

Our community needs to examine relevant data, discuss and decide if we want and can afford too many students having a distance/virtual learning experience though their devices, while sitting in our costly APS buildings, and being supervised by the second-highest paid teachers in the region.

As we continue to add 4,646 more students to APS by 2027, the scenario of paying top dollar for salaries, state-of-the art technology, and buildings with space for every student isn’t fiscally sustainable.

Something has to give.

by Peter Rousselot March 1, 2018 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.

On February 22, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz presented his proposed FY 2019 Annual Operating Budget. It’s balanced at the current real estate tax rate.

Some aspects of the manager’s budget are commendable, particularly the short-term focus on core services, coupled with many sensible cuts, to close a $20.5 million budget gap.

Other aspects are troubling, exposing a lack of long-term financial planning relating to many of the same core services.


The manager’s budget appropriately focuses on several core service areas, including:

  • increasing public safety personnel salaries and benefits to remain competitive in recruitment and retention
  • Metro
  • Arlington Public Schools (APS)

The manager notes his proposed budget “includes the first installment of a multi-year plan to gradually reduce the workweek for firefighters.”

The manager observes that his budget meets the Metro request “for a 3 percent increase in operating funding, while relying on a comprehensive solution (among Virginia, Maryland, and the District) to meet our capital obligations.”

His budget “meets the commitment to Arlington Public Schools articulated as part of the Revenue Sharing Principles (local taxes split with 53.4 percent to the County and 46.6 percent to APS) and provides an additional $13.4 million in ongoing funding compared to FY 2018.”


Both the manager and the APS superintendent dance around the operating budget implications of APS’ projected enrollment growth. That’s troubling. This is an example–but only one example–of both the manager and the superintendent failing appropriately to engage the community regarding many important long-term financial issues at stake.

The manager states: “increasing taxes each year to meet school enrollment needs is not sustainable.” He’s right, but he fails to provide the community with a quantitative explanation why increasing taxes each year to meet school enrollment needs is not fiscally sustainable.

Moreover, he has not provided the community with a manageable number of alternative options that are fiscally sustainable. Finally, the manager should explain why continuously increasing APS’ current 46.6 percent share of local tax revenues is not sustainable.

Meanwhile, the superintendent says that because APS is on pace to grow to 30,000 students by 2021, “we’ve got to begin to think about a sustainable future.” He also fails to provide the community with a manageable number of alternative quantitative options that achieve a fiscally sustainable future.

The time merely “to begin to think” about these financial issues is over. The time to think about these financial issues extensively, involving the community at every stage of the process, is now!

An over-simplified example is illustrative. The superintendent’s proposed operating budget assumes per-pupil expenditures of $19,235. APS’ latest enrollment projections show enrollment growing from 28,020 in 2017 to 32,666 by 2027. If that projected enrollment growth of 4,646 students is multiplied by the assumed per-pupil expenditures, that would add $89,365,810 of expenditures into the operating budget by 2027 solely to support the increase in enrollment.


It is highly unlikely that County tax revenues will rise sufficiently by 2027 to cover an $89,365,810 increase in spending solely to support an increase in current APS enrollment. What are the major alternative options available to address such a projected budget gap, and which ones command the greatest community support?

The County Board and School Board should collaborate quickly to present the major alternative financial options to the community, inviting the community to say which options the community prefers.

by ARLnow.com February 22, 2018 at 3:50 pm 0

Arlington Public Schools are continuing to make safety a top priority.

That’s the message from APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy, in a letter to students, staff and parents.

In the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Murphy noted that “all staff are trained on… situations involving an active shooter.”

Dear APS Students, Staff and Families,

While reflecting on the events over the past week and the effect that it has had on our nation and our school community, it gave me pause and impelled me to reach out to all of you to express my own concerns and heightened awareness about the steps we must continue to take to ensure that our students, staff and families are safe at Arlington Public Schools.

Last week, when staff and families started to receive word about the unspeakable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., many questioned why this was happening in schools throughout our country. This was true for me and for our teachers, principals, and other staff members as well as School Board members and administrators. Families and staff have expressed these same feelings through a variety of channels and we are listening closely and re-examining our protocols so our school community feels confident that APS continues to be a safe and secure place to teach and learn.

Safety is always a top priority in our schools, but Columbine and September 11 made every school district in the country reassess what we can do to keep our schools safer for learning and teaching. Over the years, we have invested a significant amount of time to evaluate our operations, to enhance school safety, to train teachers and school staff, and to practice so we know what to do in an emergency. Staff also regularly debriefs after something happens so we can look at what took place with calmer minds and continue to learn, adjust and improve.

Because you share our number one concern related to safety in your child’s school, and since every APS school is different, last week most APS principals communicated with their school communities about the procedures and measures that are in place at individual schools.

In addition to the information shared by our principals, I want to convey some additional thoughts.

  • Every school has an emergency plan and established procedures which have been developed with APS safety staff and members of the Arlington County Police Department (ACPD). All staff are trained on these procedures, including situations involving an active shooter.
  • Visitors to each school are required to sign in and out in the main office to record their presence in the school. We are reinforcing this practice and double-checking that each school is strictly following this practice to ensure that we are aware of all visitors in our schools.
  • Our partnership with Arlington County is critical to our schools’ safety, and School Resource Officers (SROs) provide a regular presence in our schools and work with school staff on training.
  • Public safety staff regularly work with us to evaluate our current emergency and safety systems and to make recommendations about improvements in our procedures. They also help us with training exercises and safety drills.
  • APS is fortunate to have a dedicated team of counselors and professionals who provide added care and support for our students (and adults) during emergencies.

Finally, school safety is everyone’s responsibility, so if you SEE or HEAR something that is suspicious or unusual, SAY something. More importantly, speak with your children at home and remind them how important it is to always notify a school staff member, the SRO or another trusted adult whenever they see or hear someone or something suspicious.

We’re grateful for your support because one of the best strategies to keep our schools safe is continuing to talk and work together.


Patrick K. Murphy Ed.D.

by Peter Rousselot January 25, 2018 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.

Last Friday afternoon, Arlington County issued its annual information on the assessed value of Arlington property as of January 1.

As per that release, the top line numbers are:

  • Overall increase of 1.9 percent (compared to 3.0 percent last year)
  • Average residential property up 3.8 percent
  • Most commercial property values up, but office values down 6.8 percent

Office properties represent about 18 percent of the overall tax base.


As the county’s press release acknowledges, last Friday’s news is sobering:

This past fall, County officials projected a 3.2 percent increase in the value of all residential and commercial real estate–and a comparable increase in tax revenues. With actual growth of 1.9 percent, the County will face a greater shortfall as it works to develop a balanced budget.

At the end of 2017, the County Board directed the County Manager to “propose a balanced budget within the existing tax rate” for FY 2019, after having raised the tax rate by 1.5 cents for CY 2017. Within that appropriate framework, the tough budget choices the Board is going to have to make in 2018 are tougher after last Friday’s news.

The good news is that the public already has provided many constructive ideas to help the Board make these tough choices. Late last fall, the Manager asked Bryna Helfer and her Engage Arlington team to solicit the public’s suggestions to help prepare the FY 2019 operating budget. Some of the public’s responses have been compiled and posted on the Engage Arlington website.

For example, check out the public’s suggestions grouped there under these headings:

  • Fiscal problems have roots in poor planning and decision-making
  • Focus on the big $$$ issues, not the micro stuff
  • Smart spending
  • Close-out funds
  • Laundry list of budget-related suggestions

Another interesting indicator of the public’s priorities can be found in an online poll conducted by ARLnow.com beginning January 2. A large number of responses — 3,345 — were recorded.

Here are the top 8 vote-getters from among the 16 options offered in that poll:

With the important caveat that the foregoing results are not derived from a statistically-valid public opinion survey, they are nevertheless useful indicators of the relative priorities of a large number of recorded votes.

As I wrote in December, it’s also important for the County Board and our community to address FY 2019 budgeting tasks in the context of longer-term financial modeling.

The Board should direct the Manager to develop financial projections out to 2040 for both capital and operating budget spending, utilizing at least three assumptions: most likely case; optimistic case(s); pessimistic case(s). The results and assumptions underlying this exercise should be published, and the public should be invited to comment on those results.


Arlington should set its budget priorities:

  • giving careful consideration to the public’s priorities
  • using data-driven information regarding what the County (and APS) are likely to be able to afford in the long term

by Mark Kelly October 12, 2017 at 3:00 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.

Arlington is hosting community discussions around the county through the end of the month where up to 25 county residents can offer input into the budget process each time.

If you cannot make a forum, the county is seeking input online. (As of the time I submitted this piece, there had been no ideas submitted on the website, so you could be one of the first.)

When you click through to the online input page, the first question you will be greeted with is: “To what extent do you believe Arlington residents and businesses would be willing to pay more for services or programs through taxes or fees?”

According to the county, the average household pays $8,582 in taxes and fees now. Maybe the better question is, do you feel like the county is giving you what you pay for?

To be fair, the other prompted question is: “What, if any, services or programs, could be reduced, if necessary?”

With the desire for input in mind, here are six questions that county staff should answer during the roundtables:

1) Do you consider slowing the projected growth rate of spending in a program to be a reduction or cut, even if spending actually goes up year over year?

2) What specifically in the formula used to forecast revenue causes the county to underestimate tax collections each and every year?

3) With reserves more than adequately funded, why is that excess tax revenue not returned immediately to taxpayers?

4) In addition to extra tax revenue, the closeout process spends tens of millions of dollars each year. Many Arlingtonians feel like the county treats the closeout process like a slush fund. Why does nothing on the county’s Budget Fact Sheet talk about the closeout process?

5) While school enrollment continues to go up, it is not up as much as projected when Arlington Public Schools created its budget. Last year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,176 students in the budget, but only increased by 914 students. This year, enrollment was projected to increase by 1,124 students, but has only increased by 789 students. Does the county work with APS to ensure money saved from the lower actual enrollment is reallocated to next year’s budget to ease the burden on county taxpayers?

6) The county’s closeout process occurs after the enrollment figures are known, but always allocates additional money to APS. Does the county require any accountability measures or evaluate additional budget needs before allocating money to the schools each year in the closeout process?

by Chris Teale October 11, 2017 at 11:45 am 0

Funding for schools, Metro and public safety officials weigh heavily as Arlington County’s initial budget conversations continue.

In an infographic released yesterday (Tuesday) ahead of more public roundtables to discuss the FY 2019 budget, county staff highlighted how the county spends its money and the challenges ahead.

According to the data, the biggest expense in the county’s operating budget is Arlington Public Schools, which is allocated $490.2 million by the county, or 39 percent of its budget. Human services and public safety are second and third, around $140 million each, or 11 percent.

Among the challenges ahead, staff said APS enrollment has grown by 850 students a year for the last five years, and it takes up almost all of the $510 million raised from real estate taxes on homes, condos and apartments.

And with Metro needing more money and an office vacancy rate of 17.8 percent, which keeps commercial real estate revenue down, county leaders are expecting some tight fiscal times and hard budgetary decisions.

A number of groups will be looking to influence county leaders’ thinking during the budget discussion. Among them is IAFF Local 2800, the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association.

In a tweet Tuesday, the group said firefighters, paramedics and police officers need a market adjustment to their salaries — a pay rise to keep up with inflation and the rising cost of living — to “remain competitive.” The last adjustment was in 2013.

According to figures provided to ARLnow.com by IAFF Local 2800, starting pay for county firefighters is 20 percent below the regional average and only $2 more per hour than the county’s minimum wage.

Since the last “market adjustment,” the group said, inflation in the region is up almost 5 percent, the cost of family HMO health insurance for county employees has increased over 45 percent, and the cost for HMO coverage for retirees and their spouses has increased over 55 percent.

Local 2800 added that new firefighters will earn 12 percent less per hour over a 20-year career compared to their peers in Fairfax, Prince William, Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, the City of Alexandria and D.C.

“Arlington invests a tremendous amount of money in hiring, training and developing its firefighters,” said Brian Lynch, President of Local 2800. “Every time a firefighter leaves the department for another opportunity or does not complete their probationary period, we consider this a loss of an investment in human capital. If the department’s physical capital, vehicles, tools etc. were being lost the way we are losing our people, it would be considered common sense to try to stop the losses. There is not only a moral imperative to fairly compensate those who risk their lives to protect the community, there is also a fiscal imperative.”

by Chris Teale August 18, 2017 at 11:30 am 0

A $13.8 million plan to move Arlington Public Schools’ offices from the Education Center to prepare for its use as a high school is set to begin later this year.

The Education Center, which houses various APS offices as well as the Arlington School Board’s meeting rooms, will be used as part of a “hybrid option” alongside the Career Center to add 1,300 high school seats for APS. The Education Center is adjacent to Washington-Lee High School.

APS’ offices are set to relocate to Sequoia Plaza Two at 2100 Washington Blvd, which already houses the School Health Bureau that provides health programs and services, as well as the Parent-Infant Education and Environmental Health programs.

Separately, the county’s Department of Human Services consolidated more than 80,000 square feet of facilities into three buildings at its headquarters at Sequoia Plaza in 2014.

As part of a plan approved last December, the School Board agreed to amend its lease at the property and add just under 80,000 square feet of new office space. In May, the Board approved a design for the office space, which will be spread across four floors.

At its meeting Thursday, August 17, the School Board advanced a construction contract for Sequoia Plaza Two, and will vote to approve the contract as an action item at its September meeting.

Under a timeline presented by APS staff, construction would begin in September and take until April 2018. The first phase of moving would begin in December, with the second phase to begin in April once construction is complete.

Jeff Chambers, APS’s director of design and construction, said that first moving phase would be to move APS staff already based at the building elsewhere to accommodate construction. Chambers said the project will not require any more funding than the $13.8 million already budgeted.

by ARLnow.com July 26, 2017 at 4:35 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was written by Aaron Wajsgras, who serves on Arlington Public Schools’ Budget Advisory Council and its Career, Technical and Adult Education Citizens Advisory Committee.

It’s no secret that workforce needs are changing. From coding to manufacturing, industry is pining for a STEM workforce that can think critically and creatively. No longer are the times of the switch board operator or the repetitive assembly line worker.

So, exposing students to rigorous, hands-on learning where they can apply content knowledge to promote higher-order thinking skills is necessary for the future workforce. And, at the rate technology is changing, “the future” could be just a few years away.

According to the NOVA Workforce labor market dashboard, over 6,800 positions in management, science, technical consulting and computer systems design and related services were posted between April and June of this year. Additionally, across the country, skills gaps (what’s available versus what’s needed) exist in manufacturing, healthcare and other major industries to the tune of 5 million unfilled jobs by 2020, according to Georgetown University.

The skilled and creative future workforce has been a hot-topic for the last handful of years. Consequently, the Congressional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Caucus and the CTE (Career and Technical Education) Caucus held a joint briefing to discuss opportunities to incorporate arts and design into in-demand CTE and STEM curriculum; and Arlington Public Schools represented half the panel last week.

In addition to perspectives from General Electric and the Rhode Island School of Design, Danielle Meyer, the technology and engineering teacher at Washington & Lee, along with Daniel Grumbles, a recent graduate of W&L and a student of Meyer’s, were invited to discuss W&L’s engineering and technology program.

Danielle teaches several courses focused on engineering and technological design (the “A” in STEAM) and shared testimony about the importance of the aesthetics in her field. “We talk about the design process with our projects. The students create sketches and drawings and then use software to add dimensions, and we redesign and test when necessary.”

“Creativity is difficult,” she exclaimed, and uses the question “Would you buy that?” to keep students focused on the importance of the “consumers” of the projects. Giving the student perspective, Daniel highlighted his gratefulness for the collaborative nature of Danielle’s courses, the improvement of his technological literacy, and expansion of his creativity that he “did not always get to use in his mainstream courses.” All necessary skill-building for Daniel’s future career.

Of note, Daniel discussed the generous resources that APS has provided towards engineering courses to purchase items like 3D printers. Hoping students in other schools across the country can get the opportunity that he had, he stated, “It was not simply to provide the technology, but to facilitate the integration of it into the classroom.”

The value of skills in STEM and CTE fields are currently, and will continue to be, critical for the future workforce. However, the importance of creativity and higher-order thinking combined with in-demand skills helps to create our leaders of tomorrow.

ARLnow.com occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor about issues of local interest. To submit a letter to the editor for consideration, please email it to [email protected]. Letters may be edited for content and brevity.

Pictured: Danielle Meyer, Technology and Engineering Teacher, Washington-Lee High School; Daniel Grumbles, Class of 2017, Washington-Lee High School; Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), STEAM Caucus co-chair. Photo by Aaron Wajsgras.

by Chris Teale June 15, 2017 at 11:45 am 0

The Arlington School Board will consider a new contract for Superintendent Patrick Murphy, one year before his current deal expires.

According to a memo sent to her colleagues on the School Board by chair Nancy Van Doren, Murphy has requested a new four-year contract, effective July 1.

At tonight’s meeting, the Board will vote on whether to advance a notice of intent to renew Murphy’s contract as part of its consent items. If it passes, the contract would then likely be debated at the Board’s June 29 meeting.

Van Doren’s May 18 memo reads:

The Superintendent has requested that his contract be replaced with a new four-year term, with some modifications, effective as of July 1, 2017. This memorandum provides notice to the Board, pursuant to Va. Code 22.1-60(C), that the Board may act upon this request at its June 29, 2017 meeting or thereafter, and a vote is tentatively planned for that purpose.

An Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman declined to comment further on the new contract and those modifications, except to say that the Board is “considering the renewal.”

“I know that the procedures for contracts of any type (personnel, construction, equipment, contractors, etc.) are private until the contract has been finalized and approved, so terms of this (or any other) contract would not be public until it is finalized and approved by the Board at some point in the future,” the spokeswoman said.

Murphy’s current contract, which expires at the end of the 2018 school year, provides an annual salary of $223,242.50. He has been superintendent since 2009.


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