Schwartz was appointed by another Schwartz — Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz. The appointment is effective Sept. 8.
As Deputy County Manager, Schwartz will oversee the county’s public safety and emergency management agencies. ACFD Assistant Chief Joseph Reshetar will take over as the department’s acting chief after Schwartz departs.
The full Arlington County press release, after the jump.
Recycling is being made easier in county offices and facilities.
The county is starting a new program that no longer requires residents and county staff to separate different recyclable items.
Instead, the county is introducing new recycling containers for all recyclable materials, including paper, glass and plastic. The new blue bins will be placed in all county facilities and offices over the next couple of weeks.
Here is what Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz said about the new recycling changes, in a memo to employees:
Good News. We are implementing a new recycling program in all County offices and facilities. Now all your recyclable items — plastic, metal, empty food and beverage containers, paper, cardboard and glass — can be placed in one recycling container, eliminating the need to separate materials for collection.
This is good news for you and for sustaining the environment. As you may know, one of the core values listed in our vision statement is sustainability. At the end of last year, the County Board was presented with the Environmentally Preferable Practices and Purchasing Work Plan to encourage sustainable practices County-wide. This plan was put together by a team of staff from various departments and is a great example of the kind of ideas that help us do a better job.
You may have noticed blue desk-side recycling bins at various County-owned or occupied buildings. If you haven’t received a blue bin yet, you will in the coming weeks. There will also be new co-located trash and mixed recycling containers used as sorting stations in shared areas, such as hallways and break rooms.
Be on the lookout for these new containers and instructions on how to properly use them in your building. I challenge you to actively participate in the County’s recycling effort and increase the facilities’ recycling rate by the end of the year. With everyone’s participation, I am confident that County staff can continue to lead by example in the area of sustainability. For help with your conservation efforts, please contact the Solid Waste Bureau.
Thank you for your support,
P.S. Some facts on the recycling:
- The County has a recycling rate goal of 47 percent; currently County facilities only recycle around 23 percent;
- Recyclables cost less to process than trash; therefore, increasing recycling and reducing waste helps lower the County’s operating costs;
- Nearly 70 percent of the materials disposed as trash in an office can actually be recycled; and
- Recycling helps preserve natural resources and reduces greenhouse gases.
Gun Store Owner Blames Bloomberg — James Gates, the Marine Corps veteran who tried to open a gun store in Cherrydale, said that the cancellation of its lease after a neighborhood outcry was the fault of the former mayor of New York City. “When news of our planned location in Arlington became public, there were some local critics; however they enjoyed outsized influence when anti-civil rights campaigns backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg picked up their cause,” Gates said in a statement. [Washington Times]
Bee Swarm at Arlington Home — Hundreds, maybe thousands of honey bees have taken up residence in the chimney of an Arlington home. The homeowner called ABC 7 On Your Side after beekeepers wouldn’t help her out, because the chimney was too high, and after learning that it’s against the law to kill the bees with pesticides. “It seems as a homeowner the bees have more of a right to live in my home than I do,” said Alex Casiano. “While I understand honey bees are important to our environment, honey bees don’t pay my rent.” [WJLA]
Salary Boost for Acting County Manager — Three weeks into the job, Acting County County Manager Mark Schwartz is getting a modest raise. The County Board agreed to boost his $204,000 salary as a Deputy County Manager by 10 percent during his time as Acting County Manager. His predecessor, Barbara Donnellan, earned $269,742 per year. [Arlington County]
Alexandria Wants Citywide Residential Fiber — Alexandria is seeking a partner to build a citywide fiber optic network to serve homes and businesses. Alexandria’s request for fiber after Verizon abandoned plans to build out FiOS service in the city. Arlington County has built its own municipal fiber network, but it so far is only available to county government, schools and businesses. [Ars Technica]
Falls Church Paper Throws Shade at Arlington — McLean residents are stymying the City of Falls Church’s plan to renovate a city elementary that’s located in Fairfax County. That, however, is being used by a newspaper to make some serious insinuations about Arlington. “The main way the City of Falls Church pisses off its much bigger neighbors is by being successful,” writes the Falls Church News-Press in an editorial. “It really frustrates those who imagine that there could be a lot of money to be made by someone, not in Falls Church, if the City threw its hands in the air and abandoned its independence, becoming a drop-in-the-bucket neighborhood of either Fairfax or Arlington instead. People with big money who’ve spent a lot of it on cultivating political appointees or elected officials to do their bidding in the neighboring jurisdictions are angered by the fact they don’t own Falls Church officials in the same way.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Flickr pool photo by Airamangel
The County Board is about to begin the process of hiring a new independent county auditor.
The Board is expected to charge Acting County Manager Mark Schwartz with the creation of an independent county auditor position during its recessed meeting next Tuesday.
Once the Board approves guidance to the manager, Schwartz and officials from the Department of Management and Finance will begin recruiting and screening candidates, with the final hiring t0 be done by the County Board.
The auditor will report to the Board rather than the manager, who is county government’s top executive and oversees the county workforce.
“The County Auditor will serve at the pleasure of the County Board, annual performance reviews will be conducted by the full County Board with written input from the County Manager,” according to the County Board’s charge.
The new auditor will work a new Board-appointed audit committee to review the county’s programs for efficiency and effectiveness, as well as any policy concerns, according to the County Board’s charge. The committee will consist of two members from the County Board, the county manager or deputy county manager, the director of the Department of Management and Finance and up to three members from the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission or members of the public.
The new audit committee and auditor will be separate from the existing internal audit function inside of the Department of Management and Finance, which reports to the county manager.
“The County Board intends that the County Auditor and the Internal Audit group will collaborate and cooperate in furthering their respective missions, including meeting and exchanging information and materials as appropriate,” the charge says.
The County has designated $200,000 for the creation of the new position in its 2016 budget. After that, it’s hoped that it will begin paying for itself by finding cost savings and efficiencies in county government.
The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill allowing for the creation of a county auditor position in Arlington last February. County Board member John Vihstadt has pushed for an independent auditor while on the Board and the campaign trail.
County Seeks Input for County Manager Search — Arlington County is seeking public input as it begins its search for a new county manager. “In the coming months, [executive recruiters] will be evaluating candidates for the position,” the county said in a press release. “They are seeking your input, suggestions, and comments on what will be important in the selection of a County Manager.” The county is conducting an online survey and holding a public meeting on July 20 to gather public input. [Arlington County]
Tejada Attends Trump Protest — Retiring Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada is getting a bit of national media attention after joining other local officials in a demonstration in front of Donald Trump’s under-construction hotel in D.C. The “Dump Trump” protest was held in response to the Republican presidential candidate’s inflammatory comments about Mexican immigrants. [CBS News, MyFoxDC]
Bernie Sanders Speaks in Ballston — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders drew a “boisterous crowd” of nearly 500 supporters at a policy forum in Ballston last night. Sanders railed against the political influence of the “billionaire class” while calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage, expanded Social Security, guaranteed health care coverage and free public college tuition. [Washington Post]
Arlington College Student Gets Reality TV Show — Monica Ten-Kate, a 21-year-old Fairlington resident who is currently attending Penn State, has scored her own reality TV series — “Monica the Medium” — on ABC Family. Ten-Kate claims she can talk to the dead, and the “docuseries” will follow her as she balances classes and homework with her part-time profession of charging people money for “readings.” The show will premiere on Aug. 25. [Patch, ABC Family]
Signature to Launch Revamped Singing Competition — Signature Theatre in Shirlington will launch “Signature Voice,” a new singing competition, at its annual open house on Aug. 2. “The new ‘Signature Voice’ competition will replace the popular Signature Idol Competition held over the last five years,” according to a news report. “Held in Signature’s MAX Theatre, the competition will host a panel of three celebrity judges in search of the best undiscovered singers in the DC region.” [Broadway World]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Holiday Closures in Arlington — Arlington County government offices and courts will be closed Friday in observance of the Independence Day holiday. [Arlington County]
Police Seek Witnesses to Fatal Crash — Arlington County Police have officially identified the victim of a fatal pedestrian crash on Route 50 early Saturday morning. Christopher Barton, 36, was killed after being struck by “at least two vehicles.” Investigators say they are seeking witnesses to the accident. [Arlington County]
Mark Schwartz Takes the Reins — Following the retirement of Barbara Donnellan, Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz is now serving as acting county manager. In a memo to county employees, Schwartz said: “We need an all-hands-on-deck effort to bring down our historically high office vacancy rate, and to fill the empty offices of Crystal City and Rosslyn with new, vibrant businesses. Our commercial base is crucial to Arlington’s tax base, to its ability to provide high-quality services, programs and schools to our residents, and to our success.” [Arlington County]
‘Inside Edition’ Filming in Crystal City — The television show Inside Edition is scheduled to film a segment in Crystal City today. The program will be profiling Kristin Beck, a transgender former Navy SEAL who’s challenging Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) in next year’s primary election. The interview is being held at the Crystal City-based 296 Project, an art-based veteran service organization.
Fourth of July, USWNT Watch Parties — Mad Rose Tavern, among other local bars and restaurants, will be hosting viewings of the Fourth of July fireworks and the U.S. Women’s National Team World Cup championship match this weekend. On Saturday those who would rather watch the fireworks on TV can do so at Mad Rose, followed by a DJ set. On Sunday the bar will be holding a viewing party for the U.S. vs. Japan World Cup final.
Flickr pool photo by David Bender
‘Hula Girl’ to Open Shirlington Restaurant — The founder of the Hula Girl food truck, which specializes in Hawaiian style food, will be opening a new brick-and-mortar restaurant in the former Aladdin’s Eatery space in Shirlington. Mikala Brennan says Shirlington is “a very friendly place for families and dogs and everyone, and I always thought it’d be a great fit for what I do.” [Eater]
Bike to Work Day is Today — Hundreds of people stopped by the half-dozen Arlington pit stops for Bike to Work Day this morning. Among them were Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and a guy on an old-timey penny farthing.
Candidates Want Manager to Live in Arlington — The candidates for Arlington County Board said they would like Arlington’s next county manager to live in Arlington. Retiring county manager Barbara Donnellan lives in Clifton, Va. [InsideNova]
Water Main Repairs Continue — Emergency water main repairs that started last night are continuing on Washington Blvd at N. Kensington Street. Drivers should expect traffic impacts, particularly during the morning rush hour. [Twitter]
Beyer Blasts Proposed Metro Cut — A U.S. House committee has released a plan to cut federal funding of Metro for maintenance and safety upgrades in half next year. Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) blasted the plan, calling it “shortsighted” and saying it will “jeopardize rider safety [and] derail improvements to the system.” [NBC Washington]
Cherrydale Tea Shop Owner Profiled — Lyndsey DePalma, owner of House of Steep, is doing what she loves in running the Cherrydale tea shop. Despite the store exceeding financial expectations, however, DePalma is still “earning far less” than she did in her previous job as a human resources manager for PricewaterhouseCoopers. [Career 2.0]
County Manager Won’t Be Hired Until 2016 — The permanent successor for retiring Arlington County Board member Barbara Donnellan won’t be selected until 2016. The decision was made so that the two new, yet-to-be-elected County Board members replacing Walter Tejada and Mary Hynes have a chance to weigh in. In the meantime, Deputy County Manager Mark Schwartz will serve as acting County Manager after Donnellan retires on June 30. [InsideNova]
Rothstein to Bisnow — ARLnow reporter Ethan Rothstein will be leaving the site to report on commercial real estate for Bisnow. Rothstein’s last day is May 15. [Washingtonian]
Endorsements in School Board Race — Updated at 9:10 a.m. — School Board candidate Sharon Dorsey has picked up endorsements from Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson, outgoing School Board member Abby Raphael and former School Board member Noah Simon. “Sharon Dorsey’s business and technology background along with her knowledge of education issues make her the right choice,” Ferguson said in a statement. Dorsey’s opponent in the race for the Democratic School Board endorsement, Reid Goldstein, has been endorsed by School Board member Nancy Van Doren, former state Senator Mary Margaret Whipple and County Board member Jay Fisette, among others.
Arlington’s fire stations have been understaffed for too long, Arlington’s fire union says, and after one of the deadliest years from house fires in some time, firefighters are pushing harder than ever for help.
In the past 12 months, five people in Arlington have died from three separate fires. After an early-morning fire in Douglas Park last June, two firefighters had to be sent to the hospital, and a fire in January might have been fatal had the residents of the house in the Old Glebe neighborhood not had an escape plan and working smoke detectors.
Rescue 109, a truck serving the Pentagon City and Columbia Pike area, that transports firefighters to emergency scenes, responded to most, if not all, of those fires. It, along with Tower 104 in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, has been operating with three staffers, one less than the national standard for safe operating.
“There is no doubt that without safe staffing levels on ACFD firetrucks, we will continue to see tragedies occur in Arlington County,” the Local 2800 says on its website.
Last year, Local 2800 issued a similar statement, asking for more staffing. At the time, the Arlington County Board had directed County Manager Barbara Donnellan to conduct a review of public safety staffing and incorporate recommendations into her FY 2016 budget. According to ACFD Chief Jim Schwartz, the study is still ongoing.
There are no new firefighters proposed in Donnellan’s FY 2016 budget. Turning Tower 104 and Rescue 109 into four-person trucks would require adding eight full-time equivalent positions, or $1.3 million, the Local 2800 says.
“The staffing study turned out to be a larger project than I think anyone envisioned,” Schwartz told ARLnow.com today. “I am the one who has been pushing the four-person staffing issue for many, many years. It has been a very, very high priority for us. We’ve been through tough budget times that has made it difficult to add fire staff.”
To try to cover the vacancies, the ACFD has applied for a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant. The grant would pay for the positions for two full years, after which Schwartz says the County Board has pledged to assume the ongoing costs.
The ACFD last received a SAFER grant in 2007, and has been denied that last two times it applied. Schwartz said he feels the last two rejections “gives us a leg up this year,” considering the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which awards the grants, likes to “spread the money around.” Schwartz expects to receive a decision on the grant at the end of the summer.
The Local 2800 has been meeting with County Board members this week, proposing it adds between $500,000 and $600,000 to the FY 2016 budget to cover overtime costs and staff the two undermanned trucks.
“This is much cheaper than the 8 FTE option of $1.3 million because it would utilize existing employees and would not incur additional benefits or pension costs,” the Local 2800 leadership told ARLnow.com in a joint statement.
Schwartz said he does not support the Local 2800’s proposal, and added he is already concerned about the amount of overtime his firefighters have been working. The ACFD must have at least 73 people working at all times, and is already forced to keep firefighters for overtime beyond the 56 hours a week they each work.
“On more occasions that I am comfortable with, we have to hold someone on a mandatory basis because we cannot get someone voluntarily to fill the 73 [required on-duty positions],” he said. “I’m concerned about the effect [more overtime] would have on safety. I have great concern about the stress, and the effect extra hours has on performance.”
According to the fire union, the lack of sufficient fire personnel has already led to a hazardous situation. During last March’s house fire in Nauck, the Local 2800 says “a firefighter assigned to Rescue 109 attempted a heroic rescue of two civilians trapped on the second floor of a house fire. While searching for the trapped residents, the firefighter suffered major burns to his body and respiratory tract, requiring a multiple day stay at the Washington Hospital Burn Unit and several months away from work recovering.
“In this situation, only having three firefighters created a difficult, if not impossible task to effect the rescue of the two trapped civilians,” the union leadership continued. “Additionally, had the burned firefighter not been able to self-extricate the house via a ladder, only one other member of Rescue 109 was available to help get him out.”
Schwartz denied that the lack of staffing was to blame for the two deaths in Nauck, saying “I would argue any suggestion that a fourth person on that company would have in any way changed the outcome either to the victims or the firefighter.”
On top of the two understaffed trucks, Schwartz told ARLnow.com ACFD currently has 14 vacancies, from retirements and firefighters leaving the department, that it is looking to fill in the near future.
Photo, top, via @IAFF2800
Peter Chang Fast Casual Restaurant in Arlington — Chef Peter Chang, who has a large following in Northern Virginia, is in lease negotiations for the Oriental Gourmet space at 2503 N. Harrison Street. Chang hopes to open Peter Chang Wok, envisioned as a fast casual Chinese restaurant. Chang only plans to make “a few cosmetic changes” to Oriental Gourmet, which is still open, after taking over the lease. [Washington Post]
Cherrydale Plan Passes — Cherrydale has a new Neighborhood Conservation plan. The plan, approved by the County Board on Tuesday, calls for protecting trees, ensuring sidewalks are wide enough for strollers and those with disabilities, timely utility maintenance, more daycare opportunities and infrastructure for residents to age in place. [Arlington County]
Top County Staff Gets Raise — The Arlington County Board on Tuesday voted to give a 3.4 percent raise to the three county employees it’s permitted by law to hire directly: County Manager Barbara Donnellan, County Attorney Stephen MacIsaac and Clerk to the County Board Hope Halleck. The annual salary for Donnellan — who’s in charge of the county government and its more than 3,800 employees — will increase to $269,742. [InsideNova]
Abundance of Busted Pipes — This week Arlington County firefighters have responded to a steady stream of calls for busted water pipes in buildings around the county. “Please make sure you know where your water shut off is in case it happens to you,” the fire department tweeted. [Twitter]
Abingdon Street House Fire — Firefighters extinguished a small fire in the basement of a home on the 100 block of N. Abingdon Street on Wednesday morning. One person had to flee the home, reportedly while only wearing shorts and a t-shirt, but no injuries were reported. [Twitter]
Court Ruling May Cost Arlington Millions — A ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court on a tax dispute in Arlington County may cost Arlington and other Virginia localities millions of dollars in lost business license tax revenue. The court ruled that companies with offices in multiple states may deduct certain out-of-state earnings from their license tax. [Washington Post]
GW Baseball Blanks Georgetown — In a chilly game at Arlington’s Barcroft Park that we previewed Wednesday, the George Washington University baseball team defeated Georgetown in a 3-0 shutout. [GW Sports]
Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick
The Arlington County Board has scrapped the affordable housing-oriented “Public Land for Public Good” initiative, voting unanimously last night to wait for the findings of its new Facilities Study Committee.
The county’s new, 24-member Facilities Study Committee will broadly look at all county- and school-owned land and evaluate what facilities are possible on different sites in the county.
The Arlington Planning Commission recommended the County Board set aside the initiative — which was intended to identify county-owned property that can be used for affordable housing or new schools — last month. County Manager Barbara Donnellan agreed with the commission yesterday in her recommendation to the Board.
The action was taken “because the planning commission urged us to do so and told us they thought a better approach to this was to do the study committee, which we have launched,” County Board Chair Mary Hynes said at the meeting. “I think that makes sense.”
Along with scrapping the initiative, the County Board voted to move forward with studies for the renovation of the Lubber Run Community Center, renovation of Jennie Dean Park in Shirlington and the future of the Salt Dome facility and Fire Station 8.
“The Lubber Run Center needs to be redone,” Donnellan said. “The opportunity is to look at what we’re currently providing there and how it can be updated.”
While those studies continue, the Board unanimously decided that no standalone affordable housing may be built on current parkland or open space.
“As we launch into the facilities study committee, we do not have the luxury to rule anything out based on the buildout of our 26 square miles of space as far as our facilities are concerned,” Board member Walter Tejada said. “This is going to challenge everyone again and it’s going to make us uncomfortable in our seats at times. But the time has come.”
Donnellan’s response to the criticism the Public Land for Public Good initiative received from the public, the planning commission and the Long Range Planning Committee was to defer to the Facilities Study Committee and simply say “criteria for locating new uses on county lands will be reconsidered,” and public facilities policies will be “revisited and built upon.”
Replacing Brosnan will be Steven Cover, who comes from Madison, Wisconsin, where he was the director of planning and community and economic development. He had served in the position since 2011. Madison is home to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Outback Bowl-winning Badgers.
(In 2012, under Cover’s watch, Madison was named the best college football town in the country by USA Today.)
“Steven is a great addition to our team,” Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan said in a news release. “His long and successful career in local government makes him the ideal choice to lead CPHD, a key department responsible for turning the County’s Smart Growth vision into reality.”
Brosnan had served as the county’s planning director since 1988 before being named the head of CPHD. Brosnan will stay on an additional six months “aid with the transition and to work on a special project for [Donnellan],” county spokeswoman Mary Curtius told ARLnow.com. When asked if she could clarify what special project Brosnan would work on, Curtius said “not at this time.”
Before Madison, Cover had worked heading the planning department in Atlanta, Ga., and in Anne Arundel County, Md. Before entering public service, Cover worked as an architect.
Photo via Arlington County
Carol Mitten most recently served as Executive Director for Urban Affairs and Headquarters Consolidation at Homeland Security, before which she was chief of the Land Resources Program Center for the National Capital Region at the National Park Service, according to the county’s press release.
“I am thrilled to have Carol join my team,” Donnellan said in the release. “She brings broad and deep experience, as well as a fresh perspective.”
Mitten will oversee Arlington’s largest department, which deals with everything from the county’s roads and waste collection to local transit and parking. She starts work on Jan. 5.
Mitten will be Donnellan’s second deputy county manager, joining Mark Schwartz, who’s been Donnellan’s second-in-command since 2010. Donnellan also employs six assistant county managers among her staff.
Mitten’s experience in local government came across the river, while serving on the District’s Zoning Commission.
“While working in D.C. government, I came to deeply appreciate the positive impact that local government can have on the lives of our community,” Mitten said in the release. “This is where I developed my passion for local government, and I’m so pleased to be joining the Arlington team.”
Arlington’s full announcement of Mitten’s hiring, after the jump: (more…)
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington County could come to the rescue for Signature Theatre‘s financial troubles.
County Manager Barbara Donnellan is recommending the county lend the Shirlington theater $5 million, to be repaid over 19 years at a low 1 percent interest, she announced today.
The Arlington County Board will decide whether to approve the theater’s new financing plan at its recessed meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 17. If approved, the county would also forgive Signature for $411,000 in unpaid lease and utility payments, and not collect rent for the term of the loan.
“Signature Theatre is key to Shirlington’s success,” Donnellan said in a press release. “This restructuring will put Signature on a sound financial footing and help ensure that it will continue to draw thousands of people to Arlington every year. This loan, which Signature will repay over the next two decades, is the basis of a responsible financial plan. It will support one of the County’s most important arts organizations, an organization that yields important cultural and economic benefits for our entire community.”
The $5 million will be allocated from FY 2014 closeout funds, Donnellan said. The loan removes Signature from consideration for future county cultural grants. Last spring, the county awarded the theater a $250,000 grant to help it pay off its real estate and business taxes.
The loan negotiations have been ongoing for several years, the county said, and include Signature’s private lender, United Bank, forgiving $2.7 million of its $7.7 million loan.
“All of us at Signature are deeply grateful to our partners at United Bank and Arlington County for working with us to ensure that Signature can continue to thrive in Shirlington for many years to come,” Signature’s Managing Director Maggie Boland said in the release. “As the largest arts organization in Arlington, and Virginia’s largest theater, we are very pleased to cement this long-term partnership with the County.”
Signature, which won a Regional Theater Tony Award in 2009, is arguably the county’s most prominent arts organization. The theater is currently hosting the world premiere of the musical adaptation of Diner. It also conducts an education program for high school students called Signature in the Schools.
Janet Kopenhaver, chair of the Arlington Commission for the Arts, says the commission enthusiastically supports the county’s loan proposal.
“On behalf of the Arlington Commission for the Arts, I want to express our total support for this agreement with Signature Theatre — a critical asset to the County’s vibrant arts community,” Kopenhaver said. “We applaud the County for considering not only protecting a vital real estate investment in Shirlington, but also supporting our nationally-renowned, Tony-award winning theater company that we are so proud to have located in Arlington County.”
Photo via Signature Theatre
County Manager Barbara Donnellan and Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Patrick Murphy, in a meeting with a few dozen residents last night, explained plans to handle the Arlington’s projected $28.4 million shortfall for next year.
“It will take cuts,” Donnellan said from a podium in Washington-Lee High School’s cafeteria. “It’s not an option. The Board may increase [spending] in some areas, but we’re going to have to cut.”
After presentations where each laid out the state of their administrations — Donnellan summarized the stagnant corporate real estate assessments, while Murphy laid out the school system’s exploding enrollment — residents broke into groups with staff members to discuss possibilities for budget improvements.
“I think there should be more sharing between the county and schools,” one resident said, telling a story about tree surveying around Thomas Jefferson Middle School. He said the county conducted a tree survey, and months later APS conducted one of its own. “There is too much duplicity and excess.”
Other resident questions and ideas posed in breakout groups, as taken down by county and APS staff, were:
- Why not use budget reserves instead of cutting services?
- Is APS looking into cutting from summer school or increasing class size?
- Will the county close Artisphere?
- Can the coordination between county permitting and APS improve for projecting student generation?
A topic that came up at multiple groups was Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, an initiative that has drawn community support and is offered in a majority of the county’s elementary schools. Multiple attendees suggested the program could be scaled back, while others, who supported its implementation, questioned the common sense of offering FLES while not allowing sixth-graders to take a language.
Donnellan and Murphy said they were gathering information before creating their proposed budgets, which will be presented to their respective boards in February.
“The residents give a lot of good insight into the tolerance for what they’re willing to live with and without,” Donnellan told ARLnow.com. “You get a lot of balance and they have a really good conversation.”
Murphy was less focused on cuts than the school system’s performance thus far and its growing needs. APS is projecting $8.7 million in this year’s budget for teacher pay step increases, and Murphy said the idea of a hiring freeze or cutting teacher pay is not a solution.
“D.C. is now offering $50,000 for an entry-level teacher,” he said. “They are stepping into the fray to make the market more competitive. We need to maintain that competitiveness.”
While many have called for more coordination between the governments, Donnellan and Murphy stressed that the two organizations work in tandem, not in opposition.
“It’s not schools vs. county,” Donnellan said after her presentation. “It’s one budget, it’s one community.”