The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
It is a big summer for Arlington Public Schools. It started with the June 12th announcement that Superintendent Patrick Murphy is leaving his post September 3rd after a decade at the helm.
Yet, according to incoming School Board Chair Tannia Talento, the search for his replacement still has not begun, nor have they named an interim superintendent who can be an active part of the transition. Talento noted the School Board plans to hire an executive search firm, but has not done so yet. In fact, Talento says the search firm may not be in place until sometime in the fall.
Murphy’s decision must have caught the School Board members off-guard. Three weeks have already gone by, and apparently it will be three months before the search begins.
This is the second instance that calls into question the priorities of the School Board when it comes to staffing APS. Just a couple months ago, we heard that APS does not have an effective exit interview system in place to determine why staff leave.
This is a school system with a budget that will approach $700 million next year, but may not have a new leader in place when budget negotiations commence. Regardless of whether you agree with the outcome or not, Superintendent Murphy was able to shepherd through the request for a tax rate increase to give the School Board nearly everything it could have asked for in the most recent budget process.
The School Board should have a contingency plan in place for these circumstances. Even if they did not, they should have made starting this search process a higher priority. If the School Board does not get more serious about finding a permanent replacement, it will not help their cause as the next budget is being written next spring.
Speaking about getting serious, APS is taking another step toward school security by testing a visitor management system this summer that would require a photo ID for those wishing to enter a school. Acceptable forms of ID can include any ID, regardless of where it was issued, so long as it contains your full name, date of birth and photograph. APS will work out the kinks before the system is rolled out county-wide in the fall.
Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
Arlington’s School Board says it will soon announce plans to “seek a superintendent who is an exceptional leader and educator.”
School Board Chair Reid Goldstein issued a statement this morning following last week’s surprise announcement that Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy was retiring. In the statement, Goldstein thanks Murphy “for his commitment to student success in Arlington over the past decade” and says plans to find his replacement are in the works.
Murphy, while retiring from APS, will continue to work: starting Sept. 1 he will be the new superintendent of Berkeley County Schools in West Virginia. Berkeley’s school system has an enrollment just under 20,000 students, compared to the more than 28,000 students enrolled in Arlington schools, according to the websites of both.
Goldstein’s full statement is below.
All of us on the School Board thank Dr. Murphy for his years of service in public education in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and for his commitment to student success in Arlington over the past decade. We wish him much good fortune in his retirement from APS and in his future endeavors.
The School Board is now moving forward and will soon announce plans to execute a search for a new superintendent and to fill other key vacancies in the school system. We are grateful that Dr. Murphy will continue in his role over the summer as we conduct this process. Arlington is an outstanding community, and we will seek a superintendent who is an exceptional leader and educator who will continue to advance our work for Arlington’s learners.
We view this as an opportunity to partner with staff, families and members of the community to select new leadership that will further strengthen APS. The School Board is committed to working with the community on a thoughtful and effective process to find a leader who will continue to inspire excellence, elevate our work and propel us forward as a school system.
We are a top school system in the Commonwealth of Virginia because of the quality of our instructional programs, teachers and staff. They are at the core of our success. We are ready to move forward on current initiatives, including new schools and programs opening in the fall, with new leadership and the talents and support of APS staff. With the recently adopted 2018-24 Strategic Plan as our guide, we are committed to maintaining our momentum during this transition to deliver on our tradition of excellence.
We will share more details on transition plans with the community as they become available.
(Updated 6/15/19) Dr. Patrick K. Murphy announced today that he would be retiring as superintendent of Arlington Public Schools effective Sept. 3.
Murphy, who has been APS superintendent since July 1, 2009, notified the School Board of his decision in a June 12 letter.
“As I think about the ebb and flow of changes that have occurred over the past 10 years, the progress we have made for children has been the most rewarding,” Murphy wrote. “Each year we offer new opportunities to allow children to flourish, grow and reach for new heights of success. I know great strides will continue to be made because of the dedication of the School Board, community leaders and APS staff and families, who all believe in the importance of excellence in public education.”
In his nine years as superintendent, Murphy has overseen continued growth in student enrollment, the opening of new schools, an increase in the high school graduation rate, and full-accreditation for all Arlington schools by the Virginia Department of Education.
“Dr. Murphy has guided the school division through unprecedented growth and change, and we thank him for his leadership and unwavering commitment to our students and their success,” said School Board Chair Reid Goldstein, in a statement. “During his tenure, APS leadership and staff have expanded opportunities for our students and further strengthened the quality of education in all our schools, solidifying Arlington’s reputation among Virginia’s top school divisions.”
“Now, with our recently adopted Strategic Plan as a roadmap, APS is in a very strong position, and we are poised to continue that success in the future,” Goldstein continued. “The School Board is excited to carry that work forward with new leadership and APS’ exceptional teachers and staff.”
The School Board is starting the process of identifying Murphy’s successor, APS said.
Murphy is the second member of APS leadership recently to announce his departure. Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Dr. Tara Nattrass announced that will be resigning at the end of this month.
Murphy’s retirement letter to the School Board can be found after the break:
(Updated at 7:30 p.m.) An “error” in the data inputted to the college readiness system used by Arlington Public Schools may have exposed the name, address, grade point average and college entrance exam scores of nearly two dozen students to an unrelated parent.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy was sending a message, below, to all secondary (grades 6-12) families Friday morning informing them of the breach, an APS spokesman told ARLnow.
“For each of these students, one APS parent, who is not the student’s parent, may have been able to view” the information, Murphy wrote.
A spokeswoman for Naviance, the company that makes the system involved, said the error was on the part of APS.
“This was an error in the data and not an error in Naviance functionality,” said Monica Morrell, a general manager for the company. “The data has since been corrected, and we understand that Arlington Public Schools has notified the impacted and potentially impacted individuals.”
The full letter from APS:
Dear APS Students and Families:
On April 11, 2019, APS was made aware of an error in the Naviance college readiness system that may have temporarily allowed access to some personal information of former students. Upon further investigation with Naviance, we confirmed that the error affected 21 former students who departed APS prior to 2017. For each of these students, one APS parent, who is not the student’s parent, may have been able to view some personal information. Viewable information was limited to the student’s name, address, grade, Grade-Point Average, PSAT/SAT and ACT scores.
Personal information such as date of birth, individual course grades, transcript, social security number or any financial information, was not able to be viewed. The information was not more broadly available to others using the system, nor to other individuals online. We cannot confirm that the information was viewed, only that it could have been viewed.
The Department of Information Services notified middle and high school families of a technical issue and disabled access to the system on April 12 as a security measure while the error was thoroughly investigated. The cause of the error, a data integration issue related to parent identification numbers in a legacy system, has been corrected and secure access has been restored to both students and parents.
Earlier this week, we mailed letters to inform the affected former students and their parents of the error and assure them their data has been secured. APS and our vendors take our responsibility to safeguard student information seriously, and we have taken the necessary steps to ensure the error will not recur.
If you have any concerns or questions about the incident, please do not hesitate to contact Rajesh Adusumilli, Assistant Superintendent, Information Services at 703-228-2016 or by email [email protected]
Dr. Patrick Murphy
Arlington Public Schools
(Updated at 10 a.m.) Arlington schools will likely face class size increases and could see some staff layoffs next year under terms laid out in Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed budget for the new fiscal year.
Murphy delivered his first draft of a new spending plan for fiscal year 2020 to the School Board last night (Thursday), arguing that even the tax increases proposed by the County Board won’t be enough to help the school system avoid some spending cuts. The school system is preparing to open three new schools next year to cope with persistently rising enrollment levels, which Murphy expects will create another challenging budget year for county schools.
Much like the county government’s own financial picture, sketched out in earnest by County Manager Mark Schwartz late last week, Arlington Public Schools’ budget picture is still a bit more promising than it appeared this fall. School officials initially warned that they could be facing a $43 million budget gap next year, a deficit that Murphy says could’ve been the largest one for APS in the last 30 years, if not the school system’s history.
However, rising real estate assessments filled county coffers a bit more than officials anticipated, easing some concerns. And Murphy was glad to see, too, that Schwartz proposed 1.5-cent real estate tax increase largely designed to meet school needs, and the superintendent built his budget using that increase as a base.
But even if the County Board approves that tax hike, Murphy says the school system will face cuts. He built a series of spending trims into his plans, most notably the reduction of 23 staff positions, bumping up class sizes slightly.
“It’s a tough year, there’s a lot of things happening,” Murphy told a group of reporters and school leaders in a budget briefing Thursday. “But given where we are and the things that are happening, I thought that was prudent.”
Plans call for grades four through five seeing the largest increase of an estimated one student per class. Middle schools will see a .75 pupil per class increase, and high schools will see a .5 student per class increase.
The School Board narrowly avoided that outcome last year, thanks largely to some one-time funding from the county. But Murphy says he fully expects the county’s own money troubles, driven by a still-high office vacancy rate and rising Metro expenses, means that the school system might not be so lucky this time around.
The proposed cuts total about $10.1 million in all. That will include moving $5.28 million in one-time money to cover construction and maintenance funding, rather than using ongoing funds.
Murphy says he may need to make another $8.9 million in cuts to balance the budget, if the County Board doesn’t approve a tax increase over and above Schwartz’s proposal. He did not say, however, just how of large of a tax hike would meet the school system’s needs.
The Board signed off on advertising a 2.75-cent increase last weekend, setting the ceiling for any potential tax rate it may adopt throughout the budget process. Officials can always lower the rate beyond the one advertised, but can’t raise it.
Board members agreed to that higher rate largely over concerns that schools would need more cash, and Murphy says those concerns were well founded. Without more cash from the county, Murphy expects that cuts to APS central office staff would be necessary, in addition to some transportation and benefit changes, the introduction of new and increased fees and delays to student support programs.
“I hope we don’t have to go there,” Murphy said.
And should the Board decline to raise taxes at all, rejecting Schwartz’s proposed increase, Murphy says he’ll need to make an additional $11.1 in cuts, prompting even more layoffs. However, he said he’s “optimistic” that the Board will avoid that outcome.
Depending on the county’s budget, Murphy also warned that the school system could tinker with its plans for bumping up employee pay rates this year.
Currently, Murphy hopes to order a fifth straight “step increase,” moving eligible employees up the school system’s pay scale commensurate with experience. But he also wants to follow through on long-held plans to raise pay for instructional assistants, bus drivers and bus attendants, arguing that the changes are necessary to keep APS “competitive in the region.”
“It’s a competitive environment out there,” Murphy said.
Those changes will cost APS $12.9 million in all, though Murphy cautioned that “whether we build in that direction this year, or build there in the future” will be dependent on how much money the county sends the school system.
One budget line that will remain unchanged, Murphy says, is the $10.1 million the school system will spend to afford both one-time and ongoing costs associated with opening three new schools next year and repurposing two others.
Alice West Fleet Elementary, Dororthy Hamm Middle and The Heights Building (housing the H-B Woodlawn and Stratford programs) will all open next year. APS will also move the Montessori program currently at Drew Model School into its own building (formerly Patrick Henry Elementary) and convert Drew into a full neighborhood school.
APS will also need to keep up with an expected enrollment bump of about 1,059 students next year, roughly the same level of enrollment growth the school system has seen over the last decade. That will require about $8.73 million in spending to manage, and the addition of 83 employees.
“There’s a very clear reason we’re in this situation: more families are moving here, more businesses are moving here,” Murphy said. “We must be doing something right.”
The County and School Boards will now spend the next several weeks debating their competing budgets.
The School Board will finalize its proposed budget to send on to the county by April 11, then the County Board will pass its budget by the end of the month. The School Board will then adopt its final budget by May 9.
Dorsey: Safety Over Late Night Hours — “Metro Boardmember and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey… says Metro’s first responsibility is not to run as much service as possible, but to keep the service that is being run as safe as possible. He supports more maintenance.” Meanwhile, Metro is considering a plan to subsidize late night Uber and Lyft service. [Twitter, Washington Post]
Arlington Redistricting on Kojo Show — The always-controversial redrawing of school boundaries in Arlington was the topic of a recent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, featuring APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy and community leaders. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]
Zoning, Permitting Offices Closing Tomorrow — “Arlington’s planning and DES permitting offices are running away for a long romantic Valentine’s weekend. When they return [on Tuesday], they will live as one exclusively on the tenth floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
Snow Threats Coming This Weekend, Next Week — “In the past day, computer models have begun advertising the potential for a snow event on Saturday. And it may mark the start of a series of winter storms that streak across the Washington region.” [Washington Post]
Check Out ARLnow’s Instagram — ARLnow’s Insta currently features photography from around our fair county. Coming soon: more photos, plus contests and other exclusives. [Instagram]
Arlington schools aren’t adding quite as many students as they used to, and that’s quite good news indeed for officials bracing for an influx of Amazon workers and their families.
Arlington Public School leaders are still worried about just how much the company and its 25,000 workers will strain local schools, of course. The school system is already trying to build new schools fast enough to match the enrollment surge Arlington saw over the last decade, and that’s before Amazon brings 25,000 employees to Crystal City and Pentagon City.
But Superintendent Patrick Murphy believes there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the school system, giving him hope that the tech giant’s arrival won’t be hugely disruptive for Arlington classrooms over the coming years.
“Based on what we’re seeing, we’re not going to continue at the pace of enrollment growth we’ve experienced here in the last 10 years,” Murphy said during an Amazon question-and-answer session livestreamed on Facebook yesterday (Wednesday). “I think this will work. But we are going to have to make some adjustments and pay attention to it.”
APS has added an average about 800 students per year over the last five years, school statistics show.
But the county’s school enrollment only increased by 578 students between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, and rose by 556 students between the 2017-18 school year and the current year. The school system’s 10-year projections also estimate that Arlington schools will add closer to 500 to 600 students per year over the next decade, with the number generally falling annually.
With Amazon on board, Murphy says that his staff’s early estimates suggest that the company will only add between 73 and 98 students to APS each year, considering that Amazon plans to only bring workers to the area over a period of 12 years. The company plans to move just a few hundred employees to its new headquarters next year, then add between 1,500 and 2,000 workers each year through 2030.
That means each county school may only see an additional two to three students join their classrooms annually, officials say, making the change a gradual one. Murphy expects that schools closest to the freshly dubbed “National Landing” area will feel the greatest impact, but he added there’s no “nice, neat and tidy” way to estimate the exact impacts this far out.
Murphy also reiterated the oft-cited statistic that only 15 to 20 percent of Amazon’s employees are likely to settle in Arlington, based on the county’s experience with other large companies in the past.
However, county officials hope that Amazon will bring along a string of associated businesses, and even help Arlington attract other tech firms on its own, so Jeff Bezos’ employees aren’t the only ones who will arrive in the county in the coming years.
But, once again, leaders stressed that the entire D.C. region, and its schools, will share the burden of absorbing the new arrivals.
“When you bring a company like this in, it ends up supporting other businesses… but they won’t all locate here,” said Victor Hoskins, head of Arlington Economic Development. “Some in alexandria, some in D.C., some in Fairfax County, some in Prince William. Some will be further out, some will be closer in.”
Murphy and Hoskins are both optimistic that Amazon will bring plenty of benefits to local schools as well. Not only do they envision the school system building stronger, tech education-centric partnerships with Arlington universities to meet Amazon’s demand for skilled workers, but they expect the increased tax revenue the company generates will redound to the benefit of county schools.
Yet as the company and its employees move in, Murphy hopes the added tax dollars not only funds the construction of more schools, but can also kickstart the expansion of Arlington’s pre-K offerings.
“A rising tide lifts all boats, and I really want that conversation to gain some momentum,” Murphy said.
Opponents of the decision to change the name of Washington-Lee High School have long claimed the School Board improperly cast aside its established engagement process on the matter — but the school system has now provided its most robust rebuttal of those charges to date.
A trio of students at Washington-Lee are hoping to block the school’s renaming with a lawsuit targeting the School Board and other top Arlington Public Schools officials, arguing primarily that the Board rushed a vote on the issue and failed to follow its proscribed process for accepting public comments on the name change.
The Board and its lawyers have already asked a judge to toss out the suit, claiming that the question of whether Board members followed their proposed engagement schedule is irrelevant in the legal proceedings. But, in a legal memorandum filed in late October, the APS lawyers argue extensively that the Board “properly followed its procedures in voting to rename W-L,” should the students’ legal challenge survive a judge’s scrutiny.
In short, name-change opponents have accused the Board of misleading the community by promising a two-step process, and not delivering; they argue the Board pledged to first revise its policy for naming all county schools, then consider whether to change Washington-Lee’s name specifically. Instead, the Board changed the naming policy, then voted to rename W-L all on the same night back in June.
The students backing the lawsuit, who have asked the court to withhold their names despite some giving on-camera interviews about the case, even claim a recording of their meeting with Board Vice Chair Tannia Talento bolsters those arguments. In that conversation, Talento did admit that “there was never any intentional engagement to the community about specifically changing [the name of] Washington-Lee.”
However, in the Oct. 26 motion, the School Board’s attorneys argue that name-change challengers have misunderstood what Board members promised to do.
The motion points specifically to the Board’s vote in October 2017 to adopt a four-stage process for drafting a new school naming policy. That process involved a staff committee identifying the names of schools that “may need to be considered for renaming” based on a revised policy governing school monikers, which ended up including W-L. Then, the Board agreed to “in tandem” adopt the new naming policy and “begin a renaming process for any schools that may need to be renamed.”
That means the lawyers believe Board followed its planned process during its June meeting, despite the claims to the contrary.
The Board’s attorneys do note that Superintendent Patrick Murphy did proposed a “modified procedure and timeline” for the process in January, which did allow for a separate round of community engagement and Board vote on a potential W-L renaming.
However, the lawyers write that “at no point did the School Board vote to adopt this alternate procedure and/or its accompanying timeline,” making it merely a proposal and not set policy. The attorneys even go on to describe Murphy’s January plan as a “non-binding, contingency plan” that “never supplanted the naming process or its accompanying timeline that had been previously adopted by the School Board in fall 2017.”
“Plaintiffs’ specific allegations that the School Board gave no advance public notice that the revised naming policy would be considered for a vote — and that the amendment was not circulated to the public in advance of its June 7, 2018 meeting — are both factually contradicted by the plaintiffs’ own amendment complaint and exhibits, and are legally irrelevant in any event,” the lawyers wrote.
Certainly, there are a variety of other legal arguments that the Board’s lawyers make to justify their earlier request that the case be dismissed. They believe the students don’t have standing to sue — as all of them are currently seniors, and won’t be attending the school by the time it’s set to be renamed in fall 2019 — and that the lawsuit improperly targets Board members and school leaders in their personal capacities, rather than the Board as a whole.
The attorneys also point out that a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge dismissed a similar legal challenge to the renaming of J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church earlier this year. That school is now known as Justice High School.
The students and their attorney now have until Dec. 7 to file a motion rebutting the Board’s claims. A judge is set to hold a hearing on whether the case can go forward on Dec. 19.
Meanwhile, the Board has pressed ahead with the renaming process, in the hopes of voting on a new name for Washington-Lee next month.
Superintendent Patrick Murphy has revealed his final proposal for new elementary school boundaries to forward along to the School Board, with a new map designed to simultaneously the answer the concerns of some Fairlington parents and reduce overcrowding at Barcroft Elementary.
Arlington Public Schools officials have spent months drawing up map after map to guide attendance boundaries at eight South Arlington elementary schools set to go into effect next fall. Each one has prompted fresh rounds of concern among parents nervous about seeing their kids moved to different schools, as the school system prepares to open up the new Alice West Fleet Elementary next year.
Murphy’s new proposal, released yesterday (Monday), incorporates changes made to several prior maps worked up by APS staffers.
Perhaps most notably, the proposal keeps the entirety of the Fairlington community within Abingdon’s attendance boundaries, rather than sending some students in South Fairlington neighborhoods to Drew Model School. Parents from across Fairlington vigorously protested previous proposals to do so, arguing that it would unnecessarily split up the community and require plenty of busing to help students reach Drew.
School officials worked up a map last week to leave Abingdon’s boundaries unchanged, but that proposal would’ve left both Drew and Fleet with far fewer students than the buildings are designed to hold. Meanwhile, Barcroft, in particular, would’ve remained substantially over its capacity.
Murphy’s new map would move 100 students out of the school, reducing it from being at 149 percent of its capacity next year to 120 percent. Randolph would also see a slight decrease of about 40 students, and Drew and Fleet would absorb most of the students from those schools.
Neighborhoods just off Columbia Pike would be primarily impacted by the change, with a cluster of streets behind the Walter Reed Community Center and others around Alcova Heights Park all moving to Fleet.
The superintendent’s proposal would mean that Fleet will open at about 88 percent of its planned capacity, while Drew will move to about 92 percent of its capacity. Abingdon remains relatively unchanged, and is scheduled to be at about 120 percent of its capacity, but school officials hope to address that in a new round of boundary adjustments in 2020.
Next year, Drew will see hundreds of students leave the building, as the Montessori program moves to Patrick Henry Elementary. Yet parents there worried the school system’s initial plans would involve unfairly packing the school with students from low-income families, as measured by the percent of the student body eligible for free and reduced price lunch.
Murphy’s proposal would mean that about 56 percent of the school’s population would be FRL-eligible, down slightly from the 60 percent figure that officials initially proposed. Of the eight schools included in the process, only three will have more than 50 percent of the student bodies eligible for free and reduced price lunch, the school system’s target benchmark throughout the boundary process.
The School Board will get its first look at the superintendent’s boundary proposal at its meeting Thursday (Nov. 8), with a public hearing set for Nov. 27. The Board plans to pass a final map by Dec. 6, and could make plenty of changes to Murphy’s proposal between now and then.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools
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.