Arlington Public Schools will receive a transfer from the county of $432.2 million, with the rest of the money coming from federal, state and other sources.
Responding to parent criticism, the School Board reversed many of the cuts proposed by Superintendent Patrick Murphy. While the school system is growing thanks to increased school enrollment, Murphy sought to offset some of the expense of that growth through cuts totaling $7.3 million and the equivalent of about 75 full-time positions.
The School Board moved more than $5.6 million in reserves for 2016 into expenditures for this coming year, adding the equivalent of 70 full-time positions to Murphy’s proposed budget. Among the proposed cuts nixed by the Board:
- Merging the Langston High School continuation program with Arlington Mill High School, located at the Arlington Career Center ($1.6 million and 19 positions)
- Eliminating library assistants at elementary schools ($1.1 million in the budget and 21 positions)
- Reduction of professional development funding from the Twice Exceptional program, for gifted special education students ($75,000 and a part-time position)
- Cutting seven of the 12 assistants from APS’ secondary school autism program (see below)
School Board Chair Abby Raphael was the only School Board member to vote against reinstating the autism assistants. The seven positions were restored with $271,859 in one-time funding.
“It’s our job to set priorities,” she said during the meeting last Thursday night. “I think as we go through that process, it’s also our job… to decide if we’re not going to have cost savings and we’re going to add things, then what are we going to cut? Primarily how we’ve funded [these programs] is taking funds from our FY 2016 reserve.”
Raphael said the reserve in the approved budget is less than $300,000 for FY 2016. In addition to restoring the autism programs, the School Board approved ending early Wednesday release and implementing FLES programs (foreign language in elementary schools) at Oakridge, Nottingham, and Tuckahoe elementary schools.
The School Board decided to quietly eliminate the superintendent’s 1:1 Initiative, which received considerable attention when it was announced this winter. The initiative would have provided APS second-graders with Apple iPads and sixth-graders with Google Chromebooks, with plans to broaden the program to other grades in future years. The initiative was slated to cost $200,000 next year, and it was part of Murphy’s broader literacy initiative, which was slashed by $600,000 in the School Board’s adopted budget.
FY 2015 will also see a decrease in capital projects funding, with the $6.9 million allotted for 2015 coming in 13.5 percent less than 2014’s $8 million in funding.
Though the budget will push Arlington’s per pupil spending to $19,244, the highest of any suburban D.C. school system, some teachers are saying — privately — that it doesn’t deliver on APS’ pledge to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase and $500 one-time bonus for APS employees, but no salary step increase.
“They are not giving teachers the step increases that they promise when you are hired,” one anonymous tipster told ARLnow.com. “They are giving us cost of living increases, sometimes, which help older teachers, but not younger teachers. They keep implementing new ideas and spending loads of money [on] stuff that gives teachers more work, but not actually increasing the pay to even it out.”
Reporter Embeds with Clarendon Bar Crawl — Reporter Dan Zak embedded himself with revelers participating in the Cinco de MEGA-Crawl over the weekend. He found plenty of loud, opinionated young people — one of whom compared Clarendon to Brooklyn — but he apparently did not find any public urination, vomiting or destruction of property worth noting. [Washington Post]
Parents Rip Board on Autism Program Cut — Parents of children with autism swarmed the Arlington School Board’s budget meeting, angry with a proposed $270,000 cut to a program that provides assistants for autistic students and their teachers. [InsideNova, Fox 5]
Bracket Room Facing Backlash? — A backlash seems to be forming against so-called “female-friendly” restaurants. Some women say the designation is insulting. One such restaurant mentioned in an article about the backlash: Clarendon’s the Bracket Room, which has billed itself as a female-friendly sports bar. [The Week]
Preservation Arlington Mourns 2013 Losses — The group Preservation Arlington is lamenting the loss of 179 single-family homes lost in Arlington in 2013. The group is also marking the loss or impending loss of the Blue Goose building; part of the Arlington House Woods and Arlington National Cemetery’s Seneca sandstone perimeter wall; and a number of garden apartment buildings. [Preservation Arlington]
Ft. Myer Road Closed — Cyclists who bike on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall may be impacted by a road closure on the base. McNair Road is closed from Lee Avenue to Marshall Drive due to “road damage.” The closure is expected to be in place until Monday. [Facebook]
Flickr pool photo by Brian Allen
The following letter to the editor was submitted by Gordon Whitman and Julia Paley, parents of two 7th graders at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington.
As parents of a seventh grader with Autism, we have had to fight from day one to get our son what he needs. He is intellectually gifted, but struggles to meet the social and behavioral expectations in typical classrooms.
We thought middle school would be especially hard, but his last two years at Thomas Jefferson Middle School have been some of his best school years ever.
The main reason is Arlington’s model Secondary School Autism program. Experienced teachers who understand Autism teach my son, and 57 other students in four schools, social skills during their elective periods. And well-trained aides support them in regular classrooms so that they can learn all of the major subjects alongside peers who are not in special education.
The program has been a godsend for us and many other parents. So we were shocked to learn three weeks ago that Superintendent Patrick Murphy had proposed cutting seven staff members from the program. The $271,000 in cuts would reduce the number of assistants from twelve (12) to five (5), fundamentally undermining the program. This is a 60 percent cut in in-class services (at Thomas Jefferson MS, HB Woodlawn MS and HS, Yorktown HS and Washington and Lee HS).
A research firm hired by the district in 2013 rated the Secondary School Autism program as one of the top four special education programs in Arlington. Unfortunately, the administrators who worked with parents and teachers to create the program in 2009 have since left, and no one currently in leadership at the school district seems to understand or support the program.
The 2013 study found that most regular classroom teachers do not receive training on how to accommodate and assist students with Autism. The Autism assistants are trained specifically for this and they make it possible for our children to learn in the least restrictive environment, the goal of special education. The assistants anticipate, intervene in, and mitigate potential issues before they become problems.
We want our son to live an independent and successful life, and programs like this make that possible. Indeed, all students, with or without disabilities, benefit from increased attention and the expertise of the staff, and from having their peers with special needs well-supported in regular mainstream classrooms.
With the number of children being diagnosed with Autism rising, this is a time to be expanding, not cutting, successful programs.
The cuts to special education reflect the wrong priorities. The School Board is proposing to increase spending on central office expenses, buy iPads for second graders, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on new public relations contracts and parent engagement. Our message is to prioritize spending that goes directly to engaging our students.
Between 2008 and 2012, the number of autistic children enrolled in Arlington Public Schools’ special education program increased by more than 50 percent — a trend that matches a national increase in autism diagnoses.
There were 276 autistic special education students in 2008. By 2012, enrollment had increased to 421, a 52.5 percent jump.
“While it seems alarming, it actually reflects the growth we are seeing in autism nationally,” APS spokeswoman Linda Erdos said of the increase. According to a government study that was released last month, the number of school age children with autism has risen 72 percent since 2007, and now stands at about 1 in 50 children ages 6 to 17.
APS “has an excellent history of services for students with autism,” Erdos said. While APS tries to integrate autistic students with the general student body, the school system does have special classes for autistic students who need extra educational support. APS is working to continue to find ways to better serve autistic students, we’re told.
On Tuesday, April 30, APS and the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC) will be hosting a “Family Information Night” that will “present new initiatives and assessment tools that are designed to improve teaching for students with autism and others who learn differently.”
The event is taking place at the Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street) between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
Among those expected to speak at the event are Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), Del. Patrick Hope (D), APS Assistant Superintendent for Student Services Dr. Brenda Wilks and Steven Celmer, from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Autism Center for Excellence.
Moran, who visited to Barcroft Elementary for World Autism Awareness Day last month, is expected to update families on his AUTISM Educators Act, which seeks to create a five-year pilot program that would help to train general education teachers who work with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The bill was referred to Education and the Workforce Committee in the House of Representatives earlier this month.