The candidates for School Board this November are weighing on how they might approach the prospect of additional cuts to the Arlington Public Schools budget next year.
The pandemic forced Arlington Public Schools to slash millions from its budget this year, and additional budget pressures may be ahead. The candidates — independent candidate Symone Walker, and Cristina Diaz-Torres and David Priddy, who received the Democratic endorsement — were asked about that during an online forum this past Tuesday (Sept. 8), hosted by the Arlington County Civic Federation.
Walker said she thinks “we need to ask for more money from the county.”
“What we absolutely cannot do is cut funding for curriculum and instruction,” said Walker. “That cannot be sacrificed on any circumstances or any programs that require equity. We have to look at how we’re wasting funds and how we streamline and save on funds. One way we could have done that is to replace iPads with cheaper Chromebooks.”
Diaz-Torres said the community should have more of a say on best choice of action.
“I think this is a really important place where collaboration is absolutely critical: work best with the community to identify where we can make cuts,” Diaz-Torres said. “But also, collaborating at different levels of government. The reality is that the only way that we’re going to get out of that 20-25% budget deficit is with a significant investment from the federal government.”
Priddy said budget cuts will not be easy and will require a deft hand.
“Your budget is comprised of: 80% is your operations and salaries, 10% is debt service, and that leaves your middle 10% where that’s what we have to look at and historically,” he said. “Arlington has looked at how do you cut programs instead of cutting personnel and I think we’re going to have it the same way.”
“This is where my professional background comes in,” Priddy continued. “I’ve had many decisions on what to cut and what’s in the best interest of the business and this way it’ll be the community and being from Arlington and knowing the policies of Arlington, I know that I’m the right person to make those decisions.”
Another topic of conversation was whether APS should try to use parkland to build new schools. The candidates largely said it was an option that should be considered, but stopped short of saying it should actually be pursued.
The candidates, who also spoke before an online meeting of the Arlington Committee of 100 this week, discussed why they were running for what’s usually a fairly thankless job. There are two open seats on the School Board this fall, after incumbents Nancy Van Dorn and Tannia Talento decided not to seek new terms.
Diaz-Torres emphasized that she’s a “former teacher and education policy specialist” who wants to “create an education system where all students have the ability to succeed no matter their race, income, or socioeconomic status.”
Priddy introduced himself as a “parent of two sons in Arlington Public Schools, business leader, and lifelong Arlingtonian, running for one of two open seats on the Arlington County school board because I know that with proper planning, we can build back in more equitable and transparent APS.”
Walker said she is an “APS parent and education activist, serving in the school community for the past decade, and as recently as co-chair of the NAACP.”
Walker added that she’s “running for School Board to be an instrument of change because a lot needs to change.”
“The opportunity gap has not closed in decades, the reading curriculum is leaving students farther behind, struggling students are graduating semi-literate, our Black and Latino students are performing far below their white and Asian counterparts,” she said.
The election will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The special election candidates — Takis Karantonis (D), Bob Cambridge (R) and Susan Cunningham (I) — all called for a focus on equity and discussed ways to navigate a tighter county budget.
Karantonis, who serves as vice-chair of the Alliance for Housing Solutions and is former executive director of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, laid out a several-pronged approach to how to focus the budget as the county works to manage a more limited revenue stream.
“COVID is an unexpected stress on our budget,” Karantonis said. “Citizens expect to have a government that reacts to such unexpected impacts. Right now, don’t know how deep or broad COVID economic impact will be. The focus [should be] social safety net expenditures as our first priority. Five-thousand families are on food assistance and the region has lost 300,000 jobs.”
Karantonis said in reviewing capital investments, the County Board should prioritize those that leverage external funding, like state and federal grants. Other priorities, he said, include micro-loans to help small businesses get back on their feet and trying to rescue Metro and the Arlington Transit bus service, which have seen substantial ridership losses during the pandemic.
“Then [we can] come out of this with a better base to decide how we will structure the county later,” Takis said. “I’m an economist, I’m trained to do this, and I’ve done it in the private sector and non-profit sector. The best focus is on economic development to rebound.”
Cambridge, an Army veteran and former CIA employee who works as a lawyer in Arlington, said his campaign is built on the idea that different political ideologies have good ideas that can contribute to each other. Cambridge said his approach to recovery would be built on incorporating more flexibility into the budget to address these sorts of crises.
“The budget is highly strained right now,” Cambridge said. “We have got to be flexible and respond as our understanding of challenges become more and more obvious. We do have a lot of city services we need. That is the sinews we all need. We really need to do things in a different way.”
Cunningham, who worked at the Internal Revenue Service and founded the nonprofit EdBuild, said the county should do more to improve how projects are financed.
“There are a lot of opportunities in our budget for improving our spending,” Cunningham said. “Not eliminating, but improving implementation. Our projects take too long, our community engagement takes too long, we don’t look back and do audits of capital programs. There’s a lot of room to improve and be more accountable.”
Cunningham said the budget should prioritize updating the outdated infrastructure, particularly Arlington’s stormwater and flood mitigation systems.
Cunningham and Cambridge both argued for a data-driven approach to solving issues of inequality on Arlington.
“Data and facts should guide us,” Cunningham said. “Our data elements tell us the story of suspensions that begin in kindergarten for black and brown children at much higher rates, and of COVID outcomes right now with over 50% of cases in the Hispanic community. The numbers tell us where we’re doing okay and where we’re not. We should use that to guide our efforts and evaluate the implementation of changes.”
Karantonis argued addressing inequality in Arlington has to go deeper than data and statistics, though, and must look at how different communities in Arlington are prioritized or ignored in county discussions. He pointed to a situation where he said the civic association of a historically Black neighborhood was overlooked in county discussions.
“We have to be active about doing this… including restorative justice efforts and looking at the educational system, making sure people have access to resources,” Takis said. “The numbers are great, but what matters is how people feel.”
Also during the debate, the candidates discussed transit on Columbia Pike. None — including Karantonis, a booster of the Pike streetcar plan while at CPRO — expressed an interest in reviving the cancelled streetcar project, though the candidates “did press for increased attention to mass-transit along the Columbia Pike corridor, and leveled criticism at the county government for not acting fast enough or going far enough in meeting the transit needs of residents there,” the Sun Gazette reported.
The special election is scheduled to be held on July 7.
Image via Arlington Committee of 100
More Arlingtonians Getting Out of the House — “The District and its suburbs all saw an increase in travel and a 1 percent to 5 percent drop in people staying home by April 17. The biggest drop occurred in Arlington County, where 50 percent of residents stayed home, down from 55 percent the previous Friday.” [Washington Post, @Matt4Arlington/Twitter]
County Launches Homeless Outreach Effort — “Last week, Arlington launched a homeless outreach coalition to help identify unsheltered individuals at high risk for COVID-19 and connect them with available resources and services. The coalition is comprised of stakeholders from the Police Department, Department of Human Services, and Arlington Street People’s Assistance Network (A-SPAN).” [Arlington County]
YHS Senior Photos on CBS Evening News — “For America’s nearly four million high school seniors, the end of this school year is not what they imagined would be. But as Chip Reid reports, one photographer is making sure some members of the class of 2020 are not forgotten.” [CBS News]
Dem Primary May Be Called Off — “Chanda Choun, who was slated to face off against incumbent Libby Garvey in the June 23 Democratic County Board primary, anticipates pulling out of that race to seek the Democratic nomination for the July 7 special election to fill the seat left open by the death of Erik Gutshall… if Choun does drop out, the Democratic primary will be nixed.” [InsideNova]
Video: School Board Candidates Forum — “The questions covered a wide range of topics – whether/how much new curriculum should be taught during the COVID-19 crisis; how best to feed families during the pandemic; distance learning access during and after the pandemic; equity initiatives; equality in the classroom; encouraging integrated classrooms; AP and IB classes; community engagement; boundaries; sex education; and the superintendent’s contract.” [Blue Virginia]
School Board Rejects Furlough Day Proposal — “Arlington School Board members on April 23 rejected a budget-cutting proposal from Superintendent Cintia Johnson that would have had every school-system employee take an unpaid ‘furlough’ day in the coming school year. Instead, the school system will use about $3 million in reserve funds to pay staff that day and fund several other initiatives that Johnson had recommended reducing or eliminating.” [InsideNova]
Amazon Donates to Va. Comp Sci Education — ” Amazon will donate $3.9 million to CodeVA through 2022 to support their long-term plan to offer computer science education and training to every high needs school across Virginia – more than 700 schools… The donation will support more than 500,000 students and more than 12,000 teachers.” [BusinessWire]
Arlington County Board incumbents fought to hold their ground against independents over Amazon incentives and housing topics at a debate Monday evening.
At the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum at U.Group in Crystal City (2231 Crystal Drive), Democratic incumbents Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol faced off against independent challengers Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell.
One of the moments of back-and-forth criticism among the candidates came over the redevelopment of a number of market-rate affordable housing complexes in the Westover neighborhood. Clement has frequently criticized the County Board for what she said was the “preventable demolition” of the Westover garden apartments.
The redevelopment was by-right, meaning the developer did not need County Board approval. But Clement said the County Board could have designated the apartments part of a historic district and preserved the homes.
Overall, Clement argued that development drives up costs to build housing and that even dedicated affordable housing units come at a steep cost.
“The average cost of a new [Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing] unit is in excess of $400,000,” Clement said. “Most of the units are not affordable. Because the units are not affordable, the income-qualified people who move in, 30 percent of them have to have rent subsidies to pay the nominal amount of rent that they do pay. The taxpayers are hit twice, they have to pay their own rent and their own mortgage and they have to pay someone else’s because the cost of building that unit was astronomical.”
Dorsey fired back that rather than use the historic district designation, the County Board is working to change the regulations to protect affordable communities from redevelopment.
“In the Westover reference that Ms. Clement talked about, while she thinks the Board has done nothing, what we did do was take a courageous stand… and stopped the perverse incentive that led people to take affordable communities and turn them into by-right townhouses,” Dorsey said. “We paused that option and put it into the special exemption process so that we created options to preserve that housing.”
“We’re studying ways that can be better purposed to provide long term, market-based affordable housing,” Dorsey added. So you have to figure out where you’re doing harm and stop doing harm to create new options to preserve affordability both through direct subsidies and through the market.”
O’Dell, meanwhile, said the County should do more to accommodate for “tiny apartments” aimed at people moving to Arlington immediately after college, who may need an affordable place to live but not a lot of space.
“When you talk about housing affordability, you need to have a variety of types of units,” O’Dell said. “We should look at the lower incomes that fall into the 60 percent bracket and give them opportunities to possibly move in and look at places to live.”
Cristol said the County should work to open the door to other types of housing, pointing to the recent legalization of detached accessory dwelling units as an example and noting the large amount of land in Arlington zoned for only single-family housing.
“One of the most important things we can do is legalizing alternative forms,” said Cristol. “There are so many housing forms that could offer folks not only an opportunity to rent but [also to] buy and it’s literally illegal to build them in huge swaths of the county… There’s room for creative ideas, this is an area where we need partnership in the private sector, particularly for those who develop housing.”
The independent challengers for Arlington County Board confronted the two Democratic incumbents on local hot button issues at last night’s Arlington County Civic Federation debate.
Democrats Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey faced off against perennial candidate Audrey Clement and newcomer Arron O’Dell at the Civic Federation’s annual candidate, which serves as the unofficial kickoff of the fall campaign season.
Clement’s main attacks centered around a perception of unchecked increases in development and density, destruction of native vegetation, and a lack of county government transparency. Specifically, Clement claimed the County Board’s decision to move forward with the Rosslyn boathouse project came with little public community input. Clement said the new boathouse will take away from one of the last green places in the Rosslyn area, a forested plot of land near Roosevelt Island.
“How can you have a public process when the County Board unanimously approved [the boathouse],” she said. “It’s not for or against the boathouse, it’s for or against double speak.”
Cristol fired back that the boathouse had been in the works for decades and has been subject to extensive public discussion. At some point, she said, projects need to move forward.
“The idea of the boathouse was the result of a public process a couple of decades ago,” Cristol said. “There needs to be a standard of finality. “
Cristol and Dorsey also defended repeated attacks from Clement, and to a lesser extent O’Dell, that Arlington’s ever-increasing density was fundamentally transforming the County.
“Development is synonymous with housing,” Cristol said. “So do I think there needs to be more housing? Yes, but we have to plan for the infrastructure to support that and plan for the student population [growth]. But I believe we can welcome more neighbors and still maintain our quality of life.”
Cristol argued later that the law of supply and demand applies to Arlington, as it does elsewhere — that adding more housing will keep housing costs lower. Clement disagreed, citing recent studies that showed rental rates were more closely tied with amenities than with the supply of housing.
Dorsey also disagreed with Clement’s characterization of “growth on steriods” in Arlington.
“We’ve seen 1.4 percent growth [per year] on average,” said Dorsey. “That’s moderate. In the ’40s, ’50s and ‘6os we grew far faster. Managing growth is what we do well. The idea of us closing up shop is not something that can happen.”
O’Dell, who said he did not have a strong opinion about the boathouse and some other topics of discussion during the debate, did express strong feelings on Amazon’s arrival into Arlington. The county is leaning too heavily on the tech giant for economic growth, he said, something that could backfire should Amazon’s plans change — much like over reliance on federal tenants led to high office vacancy rates following the implementation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closing Act.
“It’s replacing the federal government with another entity,” he said. “We’re creating another potential vacuum. The key to success will be getting small businesses to follow Amazon.”
Clement also criticized the Board for overselling the positive impacts Amazon would bring and offering the company millions in incentives.
Dorsey recognized the concerns about Amazon’s arrival and said he sympathizes with many of them.
“One of the challenges [will be] the impact on housing,” Dorsey said. “It’s also going to require the Board to work in conjunction with Alexandria for inclusive growth for all as we create concrete arrangements with our neighbors.”
Overall, Dorsey said the company’s arrival will help reduce the strain on local taxpayers and open up new opportunities for the Pentagon City-Crystal City area.
The Arlington County Civic Federation is set to hold its annual candidate forum next month.
On Tuesday, September 3, residents will be able to hear the candidates for local office answer questions from the public and make the case for why they should be elected or re-elected.
The event is taking place at Virginia Hospital Center’s Hazel conference center at 1701 N. George Mason Drive. A reception with the candidates will kick off the evening at 6:30 p.m., following by the forum starting at 7 p.m. Both events are free.
The Civic Federation’s forum marks the unofficial start of the fall campaign season for the November 5 general election.
Several candidates running for office this year will attend the event, including Arlington County Board members Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey, both of whom faced no opposition in the Democratic primary.
The Board members will be joined by their independent challengers, Audrey Clement and Arron O’Dell, who hope to oust the incumbents based on a more aggressive pursuit of affordable housing and opposition to the Board’s salary raise, among other issues.
Also slated to attend is Del. Alfonso Lopez who defeated Democratic challenger J.D. Spain, Sr. in the June primary with 77% percent of the vote after amassing a sizable warchest and a number of campaign endorsements.
Lopez is now being challenged by independent candidate Terry Modglin, who opposed the delegate’s recent legislation intended to expand access to abortion, but did agree with his stance on gun reform.
The candidates running for the 32nd Virginia Senate district, incumbent Democrat Janet Howell and Republican challenger Arthur Purves, are also expected to participate. The seven-term state senator ran unopposed in this year’s Democratic primary and previously told ARLnow that her top accomplishments this year included budget bumps to foster care, affordable housing, and teacher pay.
The event will be recorded by local cable access and community radio station, Arlington Independent Media.
Merlene Accuses Favola of Sexism — “Normally, Democratic debates in deep-blue Arlington are wonky, congenial, staid, even boring affairs, where the candidates at least pretend to be cordial to each other. And tonight’s 31st State Senate district Democratic debate, between incumbent Sen. Barbara Favola and challenger Nicole Merlene, largely held to that model for the entire debate… until the closing statements, when basically all hell broke loose.” [Blue Virginia, PDF]
Metro Closure This Weekend — “[On] May 4 and 5, Metro will be closed south of Reagan National Airport– six stations in all. Trains will be replaced by free shuttle buses at Braddock Road, King St-Old Town, Eisenhower Ave, Huntington, Van Dorn Street and Franconia-Springfield.” [WUSA 9]
Arlington and Amazon Emails Revealed — “Arlington County officials worked closely with Amazon.com Inc. to present a good public relations strategy in the weeks leading to their passage of the company’s $23 million incentive package, emails obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show. The emails indicate some county officials were trying to develop a cozy relationship and wanted to help Amazon navigate challenges and smooth over some criticism.” [Washington Business Journal]
Arlington Man Donates Flag Tie to New U.S. Citizen — Arlington resident Marc Johnson was trying to sell a patriotic American flag tie on Ebay after cleaning out his closet, but ended up donating it to the would-be buyer when he learned that the buyer was planning to wear the tie to his swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen. [Washington Post]
Arlington Sheriff’s Office Turning 150 — “The 150th anniversary of establishment of the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office will be commemorated on May 7 as part of National Correctional Employees Week. The Arlington Sheriff’s Office was established at a time when Arlington (then known as Alexandria County) was being separated from the town (now city) of Alexandria and into its own self-governing locality.” [InsideNova]
History of Harry W. Gray House — “On this day in Arlington history: May 1, 1881 Harry W. Gray and his family move into their house. He and his family took years to build it and it is the only one of its kind for miles… The house remains a sturdy structure, its longevity a testament to Gray’s workmanship.” [Facebook]
Disagreements over campaign contributions and criminal justice reform during a debate last night revealed fault lines between some of the Democrats running for the party’s nomination.
Six candidates running for Commonwealth’s Attorney, state Senator and Delegate who sparred during the Wednesday night debate agreed on green energy and defeating Republicans. But their disagreements on other topics showed that even in an all-Democratic playing field there are shades of blue.
One area of disagreement was campaign contributions.
Sen. Barbara Favola was asked by a moderator why she continued to accept contributions from the controversial Advanced Towing company in light of complaints about employees allegedly towing a vehicle with the owner’s pet still inside.
The state senator called the story “extraordinary unfortunate” but said that the solution was for people “to go back to the landowner and complain about the contract” they have with a company.
Her challenger, Nicole Merlene hit back by referring to the 2017 NBC 4 report that Advanced Towing gave Favola $1,500 in campaign contributions after she voted to loosen towing regulations and allegedly convinced then-Governor Terry McAuliffe to do the same.
Favola said she voted “with the county” and that “what Governor McAuliffe had decided to do is Governor McAuliffe’s prerogative.”
Both candidates spoke in strong support of increasing affordable housing and paying interns.
A flash point Wednesday night was the issue of criminal justice reform.
Tree Falls in Aurora Highlands — A large tree fell across 23rd Street S. in Aurora Highland, near Crystal City, yesterday evening around 5:15 p.m. It happened near the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic church, between S. Ives and Hayes streets, amid gusty winds that felled other trees and branches around Arlington. The tree reportedly fell on a passing car, but those inside the vehicle were not injured. [Twitter]
Challenger Presses Favola — “Affordable housing and ethical issues took center stage as Democratic contenders for the 31st state Senate seat last week squared off for the first time leading up to the June 11 primary. Facing an uphill battle to knock off a two-term incumbent, challenger Nicole Merlene pressed the case that state Sen. Barbara Favola is too beholden to special interests to effectively represent the district.” [InsideNova]
Overturned SUV Along I-395 — Around 6 p.m. Sunday, an SUV overturned on a ramp to I-395 near Washington Blvd. A photo sent by a tipster shows the SUV on its side near the guardrail. No serious injuries were reported. [Twitter]
Barcroft Principal Lauded — “Judy Apostolico-Buck, who has spent 32 years in the Arlington school system, has been named the county’s 2019 Principal of the Year.” She was also a finalist for Washington Post Principal of the Year. [InsideNova, Washington Post]
Small Explosion in Falls Church Condo — “At 11:10 a.m. today, a contractor working on a stove received minor injuries from a gas flash explosion in a unit at the Falls Chase Condominium, located at 1136 S Washington St. Arlington Fire and Fairfax Fire Departments responded to the scene.” [City of Falls Church, Twitter]
Nearby: Peeping Tom in Falls Church — “City of Falls Church police are looking for more information regarding a peeping tom seen outside of Saint James Catholic School.” [Tysons Reporter]
Photo courtesy Ray Villarreal
First Debate in Prosecutor Race — “In a contentious series of exchanges that marked their first debate, candidates for Arlington commonwealth’s attorney left no doubt they have decidedly different views on the role of prosecutor – and aren’t particularly fond of one another, either.” [InsideNova]
Road Closures Tonight in Crystal City — “The Crystal City 5K Fridays races will take place each Friday evening in April (5th, 12th, 19th, and 26th). The Arlington County Police Department will close the following roadways each race day from approximately 6:15 p.m. until 8:15 p.m. to accommodate these events…” [Arlington County]
Pentagon City Ritz Hosting Easter Event — “Based on the huge success we had in 2018 holiday season with Breakfast with Santa, we have decided to celebrate Easter with the Easter Bunny for our little ones.” [Ritz-Carlton]
School Board Challenger Announces Candidacy — “He aims to knock off incumbent School Board Chairman Reid Goldstein, but in a kickoff April 3, David Priddy avoided mentioning the incumbent by name and only tangentially touched on reasons he thinks Goldstein should be ousted.” [InsideNova]
County Starts Census Push — “In a packed room at Arlington Mill Community Center, County Manager Mark Schwartz launched Arlington’s Complete Count Committee — a group of 39 community members who will serve as Census ambassadors to ensure that every person in Arlington County is counted in the 2020 Census on April 1, 2020.” [Arlington County]
Arlington Tech Firm Acquired — “Tetra Tech, Inc. (NASDAQ: TTEK) announced today that it has acquired eGlobalTech, a high-end information technology (IT) solutions, cloud migration, cybersecurity, and management consulting firm based in Arlington, Virginia.” [BusinessWire]
Police Warn of Numerous Scams — Arlington County Police are warning members of the community about a number of scams that have recently been reported, among them the “Imminent Account” fraud, the “I am in Trouble” scam and the “Jury Duty” or “IRS” scam. [Arlington County]