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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 5,913 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.

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 Alex Koma December 7, 2018 at 10:25 am 0

Some parents are fuming over the school system’s decision to charge them for damage to school-issued laptops and tablets this year, arguing that officials shouldn’t pass along the costs of a mandatory program for students.

The School Board agreed to a policy change ahead of this school year, stipulating that parents could be charged if officials see any “intentional or negligent” damage to a student’s device. All county elementary and middle school students are currently issued iPads, while high schoolers receive MacBook laptops, as part of the “1:1 device” program the school system first kicked off in 2014.

Arlington Public Schools still takes responsibility for “routine maintenance or standard repairs” to school-owned devices, under the terms of its “acceptable use” policy. But the school system does reserve the right to charge parents hundreds of dollars for substantial repairs, or replace a lost device.

“People were concerned about the expense at first, but everyone told us: don’t worry, you’re not going to be liable for these,” Danielle Werchowsky, the parent of a sophomore at Yorktown High School, told ARLnow. “A lot of us didn’t ask for these pieces of equipment… but APS chose this path and they should have to figure out how to fix it and how to pay for it, not charge us.”

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia points out that the Board approved such a change back when it was still setting a new budget back in May, in order to “reduce the number of devices being damaged.” The issue has bubbled up now, however, largely thanks to an email from the Yorktown Parent Teacher Association sent out Monday (Dec. 3) laying out the exact cost of repairs.

Werchowsky says many parents were completely unaware of the size of these fees until that email went out (though they are posted on the APS website), and they felt a bit of sticker shock. A “complete replacement” of laptop could cost anywhere from $634 to $734, for instance, while an iPad would cost a family $279.

“I just got a bill for $100 for repairs to my son’s iPad,” Val Steenstra wrote in a Facebook post on the matter. “He pulled it out of his backpack and the screen was glitching. No discussion of fault. No questions about if he did something to damage it. Just a bill.”

“These kids have their laptops for four years, but there’s no depreciation taken into account here, you’re still paying $700,” Werchowsky added. “These aren’t like a home computer where it’s in one spot… And their frontal cortex aren’t necessarily fully developed, they lose things. My son would forget his coat if I didn’t remind him.”

Yet Bellavia notes that only 3 percent of all the school system’s devices are lost, stolen or damaged each year — and even then, “the most common occurrence” is a lost charger. For iPads, replacements for those cost $27: for MacBooks, it’s $53.

Bellavia adds that APS is “self-insured,” so the school system is only charging parents “the actual costs APS pays to have the repairs made.” Given the tight budgets the school system has been facing recently, officials are particularly eager to find ways to defray any costs they can.

“The self-insurance covers the costs to repair accidental damage and situations where the families are unable to pay the full cost of the repair,” Bellavia wrote in an email.

But Werchowsky and many of her fellow parents argue that any fee is too high, considering that they harbor serious concerns about using the devices in the first place, making the potential costs all the more frustrating. Some Arlington parents have managed to collect hundreds of signatures on a petition urging APS to to cut back on how often young students are exposed to the devices — the Board itself has even considered moving to a “2:1” or “4:1” device policy for elementary students, as a strategy to control costs and reduce screen time for younger kids.

“It’s not that I’m anti-computer, but I just don’t think a lot of it has been well thought out,” Werchowsky said. “You really can’t opt out, even if you have screen addiction concerns.”

Yet Bellavia notes that concerned parents do have some options, even if the devices will remain a key component of APS curricula moving forward.

“During the school day, teachers build lesson plans with the knowledge that every student will have their device to use as appropriate to support their learning,” Bellavia said. “Families which have concerns that the device might be damaged outside of school hours can request that the device be kept at school.”

File photo

by Alex Koma December 3, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

County Manager Mark Schwartz is calling for a “hiring slowdown” for Arlington’s government, choosing to leave dozens of positions vacant while county officials mull how to cope with a yawning budget deficit.

Schwartz told the County Board last Tuesday (Nov. 27) that he isn’t planning a full hiring freeze for the county workforce, but he will nonetheless direct 10 department heads to hold off on hiring across 45 different positions for the foreseeable future.

The county’s budget picture for fiscal year 2020 is still coming into focus, but Schwartz projects that the county and its school system could combine to face a $78 million budget gap next year. That means that some mix of tax increases, staff layoffs and program cuts are likely in the offing, after the Board declined to raise taxes this year, and Schwartz is working to get ahead of some of those unpleasant measures with this slowdown.

“It may not be immediately noticeable to people, but we will see increased caseloads for some employees,” Schwartz told the Board. “It’s not something that, unless you’re going around and really trying to appreciate it, you’d notice.”

Schwartz said that the positions left unfilled include roles like librarians, code enforcement and housing inspectors and cultural affairs staffers with Arlington Economic Development. He added that the county generally has roughly 200 positions left unfilled at any given time, out of its workforce of about 3,500 employees, and he’d like to leave some spots open in case the Board does indeed pursue layoffs.

“We want to keep some positions vacant for some employees who might be affected by any reduction in force,” Schwartz said.

At the same meeting, the Board did direct Schwartz to present it with options for both layoffs and tax increases as he develops a proposal for the new budget. Even with Amazon’s impending arrival, and the tax windfall the company’s expected to generate for the county, Arlington leaders are gearing up for what Board member Libby Garvey termed “the toughest budget I’ve had to deal with in my 24 years in elected office.”

“We are looking at a path toward a resolution for a long-term structural budget deficit… so our outlook is so much better than it was even just a few weeks ago,” said Board Chair Katie Cristol. “But this will still probably be one of largest gaps between revenues and needs we’ve seen since the Great Recession.”

The county is indeed projecting that Amazon won’t generate substantial new tax revenues for several years yet, leaving Arlington officials with some lean budgets in the meantime. Schwartz projects that new expenses associated with the statewide Medicaid expansion, to the tune of about $1.2 million a year, and rising costs to fund Metro service, with expenses nearing an additional $10 million this year, will put a particular strain on county coffers.

“This is just a different situation than the county has faced before,” Garvey said.

Schwartz is set to present his first budget proposal to the Board in February.

by ARLnow.com October 26, 2018 at 3:45 pm 0

The following Letter to the Editor was submitted by Mike Rosenberger, a parent of a second grader at Abingdon Elementary who has deep concerns about a proposal by Arlington Public Schools officials that would send some students in South Fairlington neighborhoods to Drew Model School instead of Abingdon.

The School Board has spent the last few months considering a redrawing of boundaries for eight South Arlington elementary schools, precipitated by the opening of the new Alice West Fleet Elementary next year, and tempers have frequently flared over how the changes will impact Drew, in particular. But one APS proposal designed to alleviate those concerns has prompted new worries among Abingdon parents.

The Board is still considering a variety of proposed maps, and will approve final boundaries in December. 

I am writing regarding the proposed elementary school boundary map released at APS’s “What We Heard” meeting on Oct. 17. APS’s proposal to bus the students of southern Fairlington from the walkable Abingdon school zone to Drew Model School is not in the best interests of the children and does not reflect the values or the limited transportation resources of the county. The failure of the “What We Heard Proposal” to address in a fair and appropriate way several of the county’s guiding principles in the redistricting process means that this map should be withdrawn from serious consideration.

One of APS’s objectives in establishing new elementary school boundaries is to ensure that most students can attend the school closest to their home. Under the current proposal the students of southern Fairlington, all of whom live within one mile of Abingdon, would be bussed up to two miles to Drew Model School. This proposal would effectively eliminate the popular options of walking and biking to school for all southern Fairlington students, despite the know health benefits of walking or biking to school. Virginia’s Safe Routes to School initiative recognizes that children who walk or bike to school are more active, more physically fit, and more ready to learn when they arrive at school than students who are driven or bussed to school.

Increasing the school transportation needs of Fairlington also has important consequences for APS’s future capital and operating costs. The fiscal year 2019 school budget already allocates $18.3 million for transportation and was only balanced by extending the useful life of buses by three years. Arlington County is already being forced to make difficult financial decisions about existing tax rates and services. The School Board must look for opportunities to stabilize or reduce transportation costs and concentrate its budget on children’s educational needs.

The walk from southern Fairlington to Abingdon is through a safe neighborhood that features contiguous sidewalks, crosses no major roads, has no traffic lights, and, for some children, would be as short as .3 miles. Expanding the Abingdon walk zone would be a common-sense decision that supports APS’s dedication to the welfare of the whole child and would seize a valuable opportunity to reduce transportation needs from the current levels.

I ask the School Board to consider the significant benefits of leaving the southern portion of Fairlington within the borders of Abingdon Elementary School. I understand that redrawing school boundaries is a difficult process. Finding a better alternative to the current proposal would not only be in line with Arlington County’s efforts to promote walkable communities, but would also serve the health interests of the children of southern Fairlington and APS’s limited transportation resources and budget.

I encourage APS to withdraw the “What We Heard Proposal,” to explore other options, and to think more creatively about possible solutions to the challenges we face as we work to ensure our schools meet the needs of our communities.

Sincerely,

Mike Rosenberger

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. Photo via Arlington Public Schools.

by Peter Rousselot October 11, 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.

Arlington Public Schools (APS) is in the early stages of what is currently envisioned as a very small-scale and limited evaluation of its justifiably controversial 1:1 digital device program.

At the same time:

  • There is accumulating evidence regarding the health, safety, questionable educational effectiveness, and developmental risks of these devices, particularly in the elementary years
  • Superintendent Murphy has announced that APS currently is projecting a $43 million operating deficit in FY 2020.

The latest evidence of the health, safety, questionable educational effectiveness, and childhood developmental risks of these devices is disturbing

The fact that children’s use of digital devices (aka “screen time”) can be harmful isn’t news. We are bombarded almost weekly with mounting evidence that the more time children spend using electronic devices, the greater the risk of physical, psychological and developmental harm.

This evidence may explain why:

  • Silicon Valley parents are raising their children tech-free
  • China’s Department of Education has begun to regulate the sale and use of digital devices marketed to children for noneducational purposes in an attempt to prevent myopia (nearsightedness)

A 2015 study reviewing school IT programs in over 36 countries worldwide (not in the United States) concluded that less is better when it comes to using technology, both for reading scores and particularly for math scores.

A 2017 study used MRI scanning technology to compare functional brain connectivity patterns when children were using screen-based media versus reading a book. It concluded: “brain connectivity is increased by the time children spend reading and decreased by the length of exposure to screen-based media.”

The combination of the questionable educational effectiveness and the costs of the 1:1 program require a thorough and extensive review

Both Arlington County and APS are currently reviewing their budgets to identify potential cuts that will help plug significant budgetary shortfalls. APS should be completely transparent about the total costs and per-pupil costs associated with these devices, including insurance, maintenance and administrative costs. This information is critical to enable Arlington taxpayers to evaluate costs vs benefits.

The public is entitled to a comprehensive and transparent program review to determine the efficiency, educational effectiveness and safety of 1:1. This is the only way for the public to make informed choices regarding our priorities regarding expenditures that provide the best return on our investment.

For example, APS should prepare and seek public feedback on the costs and benefits of transitioning to a:

The currently envisioned APS 1:1 program evaluation should be modified in significant ways to produce a meaningful analysis that can lead to major reforms

It appears that APS has no current plans to seek data or input from parents — and even more to the point, from education and health experts who rely on the most current data and research — to evaluate the efficiency, educational effectiveness and safety of the 1:1 digital device rollout to children as young as 7-8 years old.

Conclusion

APS needs to conduct and share with parents and the entire Arlington community a thorough, complete and objective evaluation of all the costs as well as the benefits of its current 1:1 program. All options must be on the table.

by Alex Koma September 20, 2018 at 4:45 pm 0

The School Board is warning of more tough budget times ahead for the county’s school system.

In a memo to Superintendent Patrick Murphy to be discussed at the group’s meeting tonight (Thursday), the Board urges Murphy to be wary of the fact that the county’s planned revenue transfer to Arlington Public Schools “is not sufficient to meet our critical needs” as “cost pressures” for the system only continue to increase.

The school system only narrowly avoided class-size increases as it set its last budget, thanks to the County Board finding some additional money to keep classes at their current levels. But as APS gears up to start the budget process for fiscal year 2020, the Board expects that, as the school system opens five new schools and programs over the next two years, the change will “increase baseline operating costs significantly.”

“We anticipate that, as budget deliberations continue, additional funding for APS’s critical needs will be a top funding priority,” members wrote.

As Murphy works up his new budget, the Board is also directing him to “if possible” avoid additional class size increases, and find funding for other cuts the school system was prepared to make if the county hadn’t come through with the additional revenue last year.

“No new, major initiatives should be presented,” the Board wrote.

The Board expects that its decision this year to cut back on devices offered to second graders will save some money, and it’s also directing Murphy to “explore longer-term strategies for efficiencies, such as collaboration with the county on swimming pools reimbursement and Transportation Demand Management funding.”

County Board members have frequently spoken about their commitment to finding more money for schools, yet the county’s own tight budget picture, brought about by complications stemming from the Metro funding deal and persistently high office vacancy rates, will likely complicate the debate. County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned that more tax hikes will likely be on the table in 2020 and beyond.

by Alex Koma September 11, 2018 at 1:45 pm 0

The Arlington Career Center could someday be home to more students than any of the county’s three comprehensive high schools, but a group studying the site is urging school leaders to keep the campus open to all students countywide for the foreseeable future.

Within the next decade, Arlington Public Schools plans to add 800 new high school seats at the site to meet the demands of an ever-growing student population — but there are still endless details to be worked out around how to accomplish that task, and what the center’s long-term future might hold. After nearly a year of deliberations, a working group convened by the School Board is attempting to provide some answers with a final report released last week.

Though the 35-member group can only offer recommendations to the Board, the report repeatedly reiterates the value of the center accepting students from across the county as an “option school,” at least until APS can build enough amenities on the site to match Arlington’s other three high schools.

“All Arlington students, regardless of the type of school they attend, deserve an educational experience that includes quality indoor and outdoor spaces, including access to (un-programmed) green space,” the group wrote.

The Board has yet to make any decision on the very thorny question of whether the Career Center will be open to students countywide or only draw in nearby students from set attendance boundaries. That’s prompted some fierce advocacy from local parents over the past few months, who argue that making the center a “neighborhood school” without a full complement of facilities and athletic fields would be unfair to South Arlington students.

As part of updating its 10-year construction plan in June, the Board did commit to constructing a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage at the site, all in time for 800 new students arrive in 2025. Yet the “lack of an on-site pool in the near-term” remained a “sticking point” for some members, the group said. The report recommends that APS build a pool on the site at some point, a feature backed by some county officials, but budget constraints make such an amenity unlikely, for now.

Most of all, however, the group expressed “frustration” about a lack of clarity on the option versus neighborhood question, noting that “the distinction in seats would have a direct impact on whether the Career Center site could become a de facto fourth neighborhood high school.”

Whatever the center’s ultimate status, the group repeatedly stressed that school leaders should see the site’s long-term future as a “high school campus.” While APS doesn’t yet know how many students it will need to educate at the center, the group expects anywhere from 2,200 to 2,800 could someday attend school there — for context, just over 2,200 students were enrolled at the county’s largest high school, Washington-Lee, as of this June.

Accordingly, the group recommended that the school system design any changes to the center in a way that “supports potential growth and maintains maximum adaptability.”

APS isn’t sure whether it will someday demolish the current structure in its entirety or simply renovate it to accommodate the new students, but the group wrote that staff repeatedly assured them that “utilizing the core structure of the Career Center is the most environmentally friendly approach and one which can lower construction costs by up to 20 percent through limiting the amount of demolition required.”

However, the group does suggest that APS knock down some structures currently used for career and technical education classes, in order to free up space for a new, six-to-seven story “multi-level education space” near 9th Street S. and S. Walter Reed Drive. Those classes would then be moved to a new structure built along S. Highland Street.

The report also recommends adding a third floor “on top of the existing Career Center building for classrooms,” which could then connect to the new S. Highland Street structure.

Looking a bit further into the future, the group also urged APS to someday relocate the Columbia Pike Branch Library from its current home within the Career Center.

To do so, it suggests that the county acquire some properties owned by the Ethiopian Community Development Council just behind the center, running along S. Highland Street from its intersection with 9th Street S. to where it meets the pike. The group wrote that the nonprofit has already “signaled an interest in selling to the county,” and the land could help Arlington to build an expanded library on the site that “fronts Columbia Pike” to increase its visibility.

Ultimately, the group envisions that such a change would be transformative for the area, and it reasons that Arlington Economic Development officials could take the lead in pulling in developers, local universities and even art groups to chart a new future for the property. And it helps that all of those entities “could provide financial support necessary to acquire and develop” the properties, which surely won’t come cheap.

Photos via Arlington Public Schools

by Vernon Miles September 5, 2018 at 9:45 am 0

(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools is indefinitely suspending its incentive program to push employees out of their cars, after the effort proved to be a bit too successful — and expensive.

The school system’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Commuter Program provides stipends to employees for turning to public transit, walking, bicycling, carpooling and other options to limit the number of cars going to and from schools.

It was budgeted for $222,600 last year, but School Board spokeswoman Linda Erdos said actual expenses were over $389,000. While the difference was covered in last year’s budget, Erdos said the budget for the program remained the same for FY 2019 without the same flexibility.

“No one wanted to make any changes, but we also had to find a way to reduce the growing deficit,” said Erdos in an email. “Carpoolers and transit users also receive stipends, and staff believed that maintaining those programs was important because it immediately reduces an employee’s direct costs for commuting (fares, toll fees and fuel) and keeps the number of cars in school parking lots lower.”

Erdos said the school system looked at reducing the stipend for walkers and bicyclists, but were still left with a $50,000 deficit.

At last Thursday’s School Board meeting (Aug. 30), Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick stated that part of the reason the bicyclists’ and pedestrians’ incentives were targeted was because the data showed they’d be more likely to continue using those methods to get to school.

“Looking at numbers and usage, those members of staff who used to bike and walk would be most likely to continue using walking and biking to school,” said Chadwick. “If we applied the benefit to users of the carpool, we would likely get more people returning to single use cars and have more cars around our schools, more congestion, which causes safety concerns and issues of air quality. Faced with a difficult decision, we determined it would be most useful to suspend bike [and] walk benefits.”

Teachers at the Aug. 30 meeting said they dismayed by the decision.

“Two years ago, the incentive program helped me change my habits,” said Aaron Schuetz, a physics teacher at Yorktown High School. “Now, biking to work is my primary mode of transportation… [it was] disappointing to get email that it was cancelled.”

The suspension of the motor-free benefits was effective Sept. 1, which some teachers noted was an abrupt change.

“I was surprised to see benefits eliminated with three days notice,” said Jeffrey Bunting, an english teacher at Yorktown High School. “I found the process maybe a little cynical how it was eliminated… I fully agree there are probably improvements that can be done, but I encourage the Board and Mr. Chadwick not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Erdos said the Office of Multimodal Transportation Planning in the Department of Facilities & Operations will continue to work on reorganizing the program and will release more information later this year about the changes.

Photo via Arlington Public Schools

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