Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget is expected to include a relatively modest $5 million in cuts, but that includes the elimination of about 32 county government jobs.
The early word on the budget comes from an email sent to county staff yesterday by Schwartz and obtained by ARLnow. Schwartz is scheduled to formally present his budget proposal next Thursday, Feb. 21.
The size of the reductions is much smaller than initially feared. Schwartz initially warned that the county was facing a $20-35 million gap.
Schwartz said that the county will work with affected employees to help them find and apply for vacant county government positions.
The manager’s proposed budget is one of the first concrete steps in a months-long process that culminates with the County Board’s adoption of a final budget in April. Arlington Public Schools, meanwhile, is facing its own budget challenges in the midst of continued enrollment growth and school construction.
The email from Schwartz is below.
February 13, 2019
To: All County Employees
As we get closer to submission of my proposed FY 2020 Budget to the County Board (a work session will be held February 21), I wanted to update you on the contents and timeline.
My proposed budget will include more than $5 million in proposed reductions – far less than the $20 to $35 million gap discussed last
Fall. My base budget includes elimination of about 32 positions – about 2/3 of which are currently filled. Affected employees will find out this week about the proposals.
In addition, the proposed budget will continue my commitment to the compensation maintenance plan for all general employees and the added commitments to Police, Fire and Sheriff staff included in the County Board adopted pay philosophy.
Next week I will provide you with more detailed information. Until then, those employees who might be affected by some of the proposed cuts are going through a difficult time. We are encouraging them to pursue vacant County positions and will do our best to match their skills with those vacancies. Our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is also a great resource and support for all County employees during this time.
These cuts involve difficult choices. The County Board does not adopt a final budget until April 2019, and I will continue to keep you
updated as we learn more. Again, thank you for your continued commitment and support for Arlington County. I am grateful each day for Arlington’s dedicated workforce.
Mark J. Schwartz
All signs point to Crystal City being a landing spot for at least half of Amazon’s proposed HQ2 — well, all but perhaps one.
The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and now NPR are all reporting that Crystal City is likely to be announced as the future home of a major Amazon office campus. The announcement could come as soon as this week.
NPR had perhaps the most direct reporting about Crystal City’s imminent selection, writing:
Amazon is still in the final stages of negotiations, the sources say, but Crystal City, Va., is expected to pick up one-half of the deal, the people told NPR. Crystal City is a suburb of Washington, D.C.
New York City has been reported as a potential second location.
Thus far ARLnow has not, in our own reporting, heard any definitive word that Crystal City will be selected. As part of our reporting, however, we’ve been tracking a tip regarding a temporary event tent.
Over the weekend, according to the tipster, a company called Select Event Group starting constructing a platform for a large, temporary event space on a vacant JBG Smith-owned property along S. Eads Street, near an Amazon-owned Whole Foods store.
“My best guess is that JBG Smith is preparing for an event where they’ll be celebrating HQ2,” said the tipster, whose apartment overlooks the site.
JBG Smith is the preeminent property owner in Crystal City and has been gussying up the neighborhood to, according to the Washington Business Journal, impress visiting Amazon executives. The painted bicycles the company has placed around the area are on a fence in front of where the event space was been set up.
Whatever the event space was intended for, it appears that plans might have changed. Today an ARLnow reporter saw the materials for the tent being packed up, loaded onto two rental tractor trailers and driven out of the area. Workers wearing blue Select Event Group hoodies oversaw the work.
Asked about the half-built event space and whether it was HQ2-related, a PR rep for JBG Smith dismissed it as “regular construction activity.”
Reached by phone, a man named Alex, who identified himself as the president of Select Event Group but did not give his last name, declined to answer ARLnow’s questions.
“We don’t comment about any of our open contracts,” he said, before hanging up.
The Arlington County Police Department is planning a “strategic restructuring” as a wave of retirements and departures leaves significant gaps in its staffing.
Services could be reduced as the department’s functional strength falls to a projected 50 officers below its authorized force of 370, according to an internal memo sent by police chief M. Jay Farr and obtained by ARLnow.com.
The Arlington Police Beneficiary Association, an employee organization representing Arlington officers that is advocating for higher police compensation in the county’s current budget process, said the “historic understaffing” is due to “sub-par pay.”
— Arlington Police Beneficiary Association (@ArlPoliceAssoc) February 21, 2018
— Arlington Police Beneficiary Association (@ArlPoliceAssoc) February 24, 2018
In the past 4 1/2 years, as ACPD has been trying to hire additional officers, the Department is actually DOWN a total of 12 officers. You can't recruit/retain high-quality officers with sub-par pay. #ACPD #ACFD
— Arlington Police Beneficiary Association (@ArlPoliceAssoc) February 22, 2018
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz’s proposed budget includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for rank-and-file officers, on top of pay hikes for all county employees. The raise does not apply to the department’s command staff. The County Board voted over the weekend against a property tax rate increase, meaning that any additional money for the department beyond Schwartz’s recommendation will likely result in reductions elsewhere in the budget.
The police department is actively recruiting to try to fill staffing holes, but faces competition from other D.C. area local police departments as well as federal law enforcement agencies that often have higher levels of pay. Asked about the numbers, ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said the total staffing level at the department is a bit higher than the functional staffing level.
“The Arlington County Police Department has an authorized staffing of 370 officers and a current strength of 346 officers,” she told ARLnow.com. “Our current strength includes recruits currently at the academy as well as officers on light duty so our functional staffing is a little lower.”
A table showing retirements and non-retirement departures from the police department, as provided by a county spokeswoman, shows a sharp uptick in 2017.
In a statement, Savage said the planned restructuring will “maximize our available resources.”
Our goals and objectives as a department have not changed, nor has our commitment to providing professional law enforcement services to the residents, visitors and businesses of Arlington County. However, our methods of achieving these goals must adapt to our current staffing challenges. To maximize our available resources, we will be completing a strategic restructuring of the police department. This will be accomplished by our command staff collaborating with the entirety of the police department and devising a staffing plan jointly. Our staffing and structure will focus on prioritizing core services and ensuring the services we are able to provide are effective and efficient. The ultimate goal is to design a police department reflective of our current staffing levels, limit the workload strain on officers by focusing on core services and promote a balanced work/life atmosphere. Our plan will also be forward looking to support growth as staffing improves. It is anticipated that the restructuring will be complete by late spring and additional information will be available at that time.
“Great work happens throughout this agency on a daily basis and this I am confident this will continue despite our current staffing challenges,” Chief Farr said in a statement issued to ARLnow.com. “The strategic restructure will provide us with an opportunity to maximize our resources by building a police department reflective of our current staffing levels while supporting our mission to reduce the incidence of crime and improve the quality of life in Arlington County.”
In the memo, below, Farr says the police department will be reevaluating its ability to provide support for special events in the county as part of the restructuring process.
The Arlington County Fire Department, meanwhile, is facing similar pressures. Fire department personnel are slated to receive an extra 4 percent bump in pay over the standard county employee raise in Schwartz’s budget, but the Arlington Professional Firefighters and Paramedics Association says even that might not be enough to fill gaps in staffing.
— IAFF Local 2800 (@IAFF2800) February 21, 2018
With Fairfax's 4.5% market adjustment, #ACFD will be 17.5% behind. How can Arlington County firefighters not feel devalued?
We are not asking to be at the top…just asking for comparable pay for public safety. @ARLnowDOTcom
— IAFF Local 2800 (@IAFF2800) February 22, 2018
The full memo about restructuring from Chief Farr, after the jump.
Eagle-eyed readers of this site may have noticed something odd in this past Friday’s weekend discussion post: namely, the inclusion of an article from December among the most-viewed stories of the week.
We also found that unusual, so we did a bit of digging. It turns out, there have been more than 6,000 views of the article, “County Wins Top Environmental Award from U.S. Green Building Council,” over the past week.
Here’s an excerpt:
Arlington County is the first community in the country to win a top award for its environmentally-friendly policies from the U.S. Green Building Council.
The county was named a Platinum level community by USGBC under its new LEED for Communities program.
USGBC said the certification recognizes the county’s creation of a “sustainable and resilient urban environment that has long-proven success in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, managing stormwater, ensuring economic prosperity and focusing on education, affordable housing, health and safety for residents and businesses.”
So from where is all this newfound interest in Arlington County’s sustainability bonafides coming? From Amazon.com, it seems.
The vast majority of the traffic to the page over the past week that can be tracked came from what appears to be an internal Amazon.com page devoted to its HQ2 search. Arlington, of course, is in the running as one of the potential landing spots for the company’s second headquarters.
Below is a chart showing traffic to the page, via Google Analytics.
No other page on ARLnow.com has a similar level of traffic coming from Amazon.
Last week a noted NYU professor who has written about the company opined that New York City and the D.C. area are among the most likely finalists for HQ2, due to a combination of being destinations for talented workers and being places that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos likes to frequent.
Someone keyed the words “black bitch” onto a black man’s car on a block in Arlington’s Barcroft neighborhood, where some residents are up in arms about outsiders parking on their street.
The man, who works as a contractor at the Army National Guard Readiness Center (111 S. George Mason Drive), parked his car near the corner of S. Pershing Drive and 1st Street S. this past Thursday morning. When he arrived back at the car that afternoon, he found the words carved onto his driver’s side door and called police.
Officers photographed the car and dusted it for fingerprints. They also took “elimination prints” from the man and Evie Bernard, who carpools with him.
Bernard says she suspects the vandalism was actually targeted at her. She said some residents on the block have confronted her and other commuters about parking, even though it’s a public street and — unlike other nearby streets — not zoned for resident-only parking.
The prior Sunday, Bernard said, she had just returned from a brief vacation when a resident came out of his house and “started yelling and saying never to park there again.” The man, who was pointing his finger and “being very aggressive,” was soon joined by his wife and one of their children, who were all yelling at Bernard for parking in front of their house, she said.
“How would you feel if I parked in front of your house in Waldorf, Maryland?” one of them asked, according to Bernard’s account. The residents had somehow obtained Bernard’s name and apparently looked her up on Facebook, also referencing where she went on vacation and saying “I know where you work.” After about 5 minutes, Bernard drove away and then decided to call police.
“I was so upset that I got in my car and drove away,” she said. “I could only take so much… I was really upset. It was pretty much a nightmare.
Police took a report, Bernard said, but because her life was not threatened it was determined that no crime had occurred. An Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman corroborated that a report of verbal harassment had been filed.
Though Bernard initially suspected the people who confronted her — who are white — might have been responsible for the vandalism, police said today (Tuesday) that the residents have been eliminated as suspects.
Bernard and another Army National Guard contractor who contacted ARLnow.com said the parking issue is not likely to be solved anytime soon. Parking at the George Mason Drive campus is limited and most spots are reserved for employees; contractors are instructed to take transit or park on nearby streets.
While there were plenty of spots available on the 4400 block of 1st Street S. when an ARLnow reporter visited Monday afternoon, a resident said that there are times when the block is filled with cars, including many commuters. He said that residents have tried to apply for zoned parking, but a county parking study did not find enough commuter parking to meet the program threshold.
Earlier this month new zone parking applications were halted indefinitely, pending a review.
Update at 2:40 p.m. on 8/7/17 — Arlington County Police spokeswoman Ashley Savage said in a statement to ARLnow: “ACPD is aware that driverless vehicles are being tested in the Commonwealth. Officers have not had contact with the vehicle observed in Clarendon. If officers observe a traffic violation, they will attempt a traffic stop.”
Update at 1:30 p.m. on 8/7/17 — NBC 4’s Adam Tuss, working on a follow-up story to this article, spotted the van driving around Clarendon on Monday, Aug. 7, and upon further inspection found a driver — disguised as a seat. Police were called after the driver ran a red light but officers were unable to locate the van, according to scanner traffic. Tuss’ report is expected to air Monday night.
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) August 7, 2017
— Adam Tuss (@AdamTuss) August 7, 2017
Earlier: A mysterious, seemingly driverless van was spotted cruising the streets of Arlington’s Courthouse and Clarendon neighborhoods Thursday evening.
The unmarked gray van with Virginia license plates drove up and down Wilson and Clarendon Blvds more than a half dozen times — with no one in the driver’s seat or passenger seat. The rear windows of the Ford Transit Connect van were darkly tinted.
The van appeared to drive cautiously but keep up with traffic. Cameras and a light bar could be seen behind the windshield.
When the car stopped at a red light, the light bar started blinking. When the signal turned green and the car started driving, the blinking stopped.
The lack of a driver went mostly unnoticed as Clarendon residents went around their after-work routines near the Metro station, though occasionally people could be seen pointing at the car or asking someone nearby if they saw a driver.
Spokespeople for Arlington County, the Arlington County Police Department, VDOT and the Federal Highway Administration did not have any immediate knowledge of any autonomous vehicle testing on the streets of Arlington.
VDOT and FHWA recently announced that Virginia Tech would be conducting automated vehicle testing along I-95, I-495, I-66, Route 50 and Route 29. The announcement did not mention testing on primary streets along Metro corridors, however WTOP reported in May that “self-driving cars already on Virginia roads, even if you don’t realize it.”
“In Virginia, it’s a little bit more discreet, so companies could test in real-world environments and you wouldn’t even know, so we have some proprietary studies going that route,” a Virginia Tech researcher was quoted as saying.
Anne Deekens, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, declined to say whether it belongs to the university. “I have no comment at this time,” she said.
That’s according to the Arlington County Police Department, in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.com. ACPD has thus far not provided additional details about the nature of the arrests, the suspects or the schools involved.
The new statistic comes as ACPD starts conducting K-9 drug searches after hours in Arlington public high schools.
Current and former students, who spoke to ARLnow.com on the condition of anonymity, said there is drug problem within the school system.
“Over the past two years or so, I have definitely seen an increase in drug usage among high school students, particularly Xanax and Adderall,” said one recent graduate. “If I had to place blame on one thing, I would say that stress is what’s driving most kids towards drug use, but particularly Xanax and Adderall. The stress problem is really something that APS needs to get out in front of sooner rather than later.”
A current junior at Yorktown High School said the issue extends beyond prescription drugs.
“Yorktown definitely has a drug problem,” she said. “So many people have started getting into cocaine and a lot of the other harder drugs and many of them don’t even think much of it just because they see it around so often. It’s definitely considered ‘cool’ to be into that sort of thing, which is why I think so many kids are drawn to it.”
“There’s not much else to do so a lot of people do for fun,” said a recent graduate. “I don’t think people really think of themselves as addicts.”
“The middle schools are the worst,” said a senior. “Kids have older siblings that are in high school and are able to sell to the younger students. It’s a cycle.”
In a prior statement, an Arlington Public Schools spokesman said APS is taking steps to combat drug use, adding that the problem is part of a larger trend that extends well beyond Arlington.
“As you know, substance abuse and opioid use is a growing problem both in our region and across the US,” said Frank Bellavia. “In collaboration with our law enforcement partners, we are taking steps to make sure that our students are safe and that our schools remain drug free. We also want to make sure that parents are aware and having conversations with their children at home.”
Kalina Newman and Brooke Giles contributed reporting. File photo.
This past weekend, the Arlington County Board approved new regulations on Airbnb and other short-term home rentals.
The move was cheered by Airbnb, which said Arlington is now the “first D.C. area municipality to pass an ordinance creating fair rules for middle class residents and families to continue sharing their homes.”
The regulation officially makes Airbnb legal in Arlington, whereas it might have been technically illegal before, under the local zoning ordinance. But there was one issue not addressed by the county press release that Airbnb hosts will want to consider going forward: taxes.
ARLnow.com did some more digging and it turns out that Airbnb hosts (along with those using services like Homeaway, Craigslist, etc.) will have to pay the same 7.25 percent Transient Occupency Tax as hotels. And they’ll have to pay it in the same way — by creating an account with the county and filing monthly tax returns.
That’s a burden that may discourage casual hosts from, say, just renting their place for the inauguration, assuming they want to stay on the right side of the law.
“The Commissioner of Revenue will require each person renting property to transients, including those who obtain an accessory use permit for short term homestays under the new County ordinance, to collect and remit the TOT to the County,” Ray Warren, Arlington’s Deputy Commissioner of Revenue, tells ARLnow.com.
“This is done and will be done the same way as it is with every other entity providing transient accommodations,” Warren said. “We will set up an account for the accommodation provider. They must file each month by the 20th for the previous month’s activity.”
What if a homeowner did not rent his or her property in a given month?
“They should file monthly, but it is easy (especially online) to file a zero return,” Warren said. “Otherwise we don’t know if they had no business or merely neglected to file.”
So monthly tax returns will be the norm for anyone renting their place on Airbnb. If the homeowner decides to stop renting for the foreseeable future, they can notify the Commissioner of Revenue’s office and stop filing.
“It would not be proper, however, for the homeowner to again advertise the property for rent without opening a TOT account,” noted Warren.
Because Airbnb does not publicly list the addresses of rental properties, Warren said that compliance will primarily be accomplished through tips. Another compliance mechanism: checking the tax records of those who have applied for the new “accessory homestay” permit.
“We have made efforts this year, but we depend on tips and voluntary compliance,” he said. “To the extent there are those who do not comply with the County’s new ordinance (and get an accessory use permit) we will continue to rely on tips from the public.”
“Homestay rentals, unlike other public businesses, do not generally have signage or other markers, so that can be difficult otherwise,” Warren added. “We will also be reviewing individual (state) income tax returns to look for persons reporting such rental income. I suspect that bringing the vast majority into compliance through the County ordinance will also increase the number of leads as to non-compliant locations.”
County Board member John Vihstadt, the lone “no” vote on the short-term rental ordinance, said had “some serious reservations” about it and thought the process was “too rushed” and left “issues inadequately addressed.”
Contacted by ARLnow.com two days after the vote, he said he was not sure how taxes would be collected on Airbnb properties.
“That is something, frankly, that is not clear,” he said. “We need to make this easy for the hosts and guests.”
Updated at 12:45 p.m. — The Arlington County Human Rights Commission contacted Crabb and Johnson minutes ago about their appeal, informing them that reasonable grounds do exist to support allegations of discrimination based on gender. The written decision notes that the “no long dresses” policy is not specific and there are “at least twenty-seven images” on the daycare’s website of girls wearing dresses, including some of similar lengths to the boy’s dress. The commission notes that the boy is the only child who has been disciplined over the policy and that Crabb and Johnson received no warnings or reminders about their son’s dress length. The commission says evidence indicates the boy was expelled as retaliation for his parents speaking up about their child’s dress being removed. The Arlington County Human Rights Commission’s Executive Director has been authorized to initiate “conciliation efforts” between the parties.
Earlier: An Arlington couple is accusing a local daycare of discrimination, saying their young son was kicked out for wearing a dress.
Kristen Johnson and Robin Crabb say their son had been wearing a dress to his daycare, the Arlington Children’s Center near Rosslyn, for several weeks when trouble suddenly broke out in November 2015. Arlington Children’s Center has not responded to ARLnow’s multiple requests for comment, but Johnson and Crabb shared their recollection of the events.
Johnson says last year she went to pick up her then-three-year-old son from daycare when she noticed he was not wearing his dress — which was in the style of Elsa’s dress in the animated movie “Frozen” — over his pants and shirt, as he had been when he was dropped off that morning. When her son said the dress had been taken off of him, Johnson questioned daycare employees about why that had happened.
At first she thought perhaps her son had gotten the dress dirty and staff therefore had to remove it. But staff told Johnson that the daycare center’s owner saw the boy wearing the dress and instructed staff to take it off.
“A teacher said [the owner] was irate when she saw my son wearing a dress,” Johnson says. “My son was essentially kicked out because he was wearing dress.”
She points out that although the boy had been wearing a shirt and pants under the dress because it was cold outside, the dress reportedly was taken off of him in front of the other children at the daycare.
“I said no one should take my son’s clothes off until they talk to my husband or myself first,” Johnson says.
An employee reportedly returned the dress to Johnson in a plastic bag but did not provide any additional information. Johnson requested to speak with the owner and staff said the owner would call her. Johnson says although she became angry at the lack of answers to her repeated questions about why the dress had been removed, she realized she wasn’t making progress and left the daycare without becoming disruptive.
Johnson says once she got home she called the daycare and spoke with the director. She recalls that the director also did not answer questions about the dress removal and told Johnson she would have to speak with the daycare’s owner. Johnson admits becoming frustrated at that point and hanging up on the director. “It was not my best moment, but I did it,” she says.
She received a call from the owner shortly thereafter. The conversation quickly became “animated,” according to Johnson and her husband, Crabb, who joined the call when Johnson grew agitated. The couple repeatedly asked the owner if she instructed staff to remove the dress just because it was on a boy. The owner repeatedly stated that the center had a policy against long dresses for safety reasons. But Crabb believes the owner’s animated response to the questions indicates otherwise.
“If somebody violates a policy against long dresses, you don’t have an emotional reaction like that. You just say they’re not allowed to,” he says.
After more discussion about the long dress policy, the owner reportedly told the couple not to bring their son to the daycare again or employees would call police. The owner told the couple that the boy was expelled because of Johnson’s interactions with staff after discovering the dress had been removed.
Johnson says the expulsion is unjustified on those grounds because she was not inappropriate or aggressive with anyone, other than hanging up on the one employee. She says parents and staff who witnessed her at the daycare center on the day of the dress removal have attested to her appropriate behavior during the incident.
Although the daycare does indeed have a “no long dresses” rule, Crabb and Johnson say, they had never been warned that their son was violating the policy prior to this incident. Additionally, they say that the vague rule does not even state exactly where on a child’s body dresses are allowed to reach or what constitutes a violation.
The boy received the dress as a hand-me-down gift from one of the girls at the daycare. She reportedly had worn the dress at the center on more than one occasion without any repercussions. In fact, the girl was wearing the dress in a photo featured on the daycare’s website (above left).
Crabb and Johnson point out that the dress was longer on the girl than it was on their son; it reached nearly to the girl’s ankles but only mid-calf on the boy (above right). They say other girls also wore dresses longer than their son’s without reprimand, as seen in another photo from the center’s website (below right).
Crabb and Johnson are certain their son was discriminated against for wearing non-gender conforming clothing and took their case to the Arlington County Human Rights Commission earlier this year. The commission investigated the case but did not rule in Crabb and Johnson’s favor.
A spokesperson for the Arlington County Office of Human Rights told ARLnow that all matters it investigates are confidential and it will not discuss them with anyone except the parties directly involved.
The commission’s ruling in the discrimination case was based on a number of factors, according to its final written report. One factor is that the parents did not inform the daycare that their son might have a “gender identity issue.” The commission also decided the dress in question was not related to his gender identity because it is a “costume dress,” and it cited insufficient evidence that the boy wore dresses outside of daycare.
The move comes amid a wave of layoffs among tech companies that are struggling to attain or maintain profitability as tech investment euphoria cools. Across the economy, there’s weakness in the employment market and in corporate profits.
“We’ve reduced a small number of roles — about 45, including about 25 in our U.S. offices,” Opower Vice President of Communications Matt Maurer said this morning in response to an inquiry from ARLnow.com. “It’s part of an effort to cut back on our overall spend in sales and marketing and R&D.”
“These moves give us a better expense profile and strengthen the very good position we are already in as the clear leader in our space, having recently renewed our largest clients to multi-year extensions and with over $480 million in contracted future revenue on the books,” Maurer continued. “These strong fundamentals — combined with our new and growing set of customer care products — put Opower in a great position for continued success.”
Opower had about 600 employees worldwide before the layoffs, which were announced to employees last week.
The company is planning to move from its long-time offices in Courthouse to a new yet-to-be-built headquarters down the street, at 2311 Wilson Blvd, in about two years. Opower received a $1 million grant from the Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund to entice the company to stay in Virginia.
Opower, which creates energy efficiency technology for utility companies, is publicly traded under the ticker symbol OPWR. As of 11:15 a.m. it was trading at $7.30 per share. The company reported a $13.6 million loss in its most recent quarterly results.
The so-called backpack mail for parents of elementary and middle school students is being phased out in favor of an electronic system, following a successful pilot program, according to APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.
The system, called Peachjar, is specifically designed for schools. It sends electronic flyers to parents’ email inboxes, thus cutting costs and staff time that would otherwise be spent making paper copies and distributing them.
The new system is being rolled out to all elementary and middle schools “over the next few weeks,” Bellavia said.
Families can request that they keep receiving paper copies and paper flyers will be posted on school bulletin boards. Otherwise, there are a number of options for electronic delivery.
“Parents can access the flyers via weekly email notifications they receive, by checking the school’s website, or accessing flyers on the APS Mobile App,” said Bellavia. “Families like the Peachjar option because electronic copies stay online for at least 30 days, and are linked directly to the organization’s website where they can access more information or directly sign up for programs electronically, which is more convenient than keeping track of paper copies and following up on advertised services.”
The pilot program took place at six elementary schools and one middle school last fall and of the families surveyed about it, 86 percent said they wanted to keep the new system instead of returning to backpack mail, according to APS. Nonprofit organizations and PTAs also participate in backpack mail and APS received an enthusiastic response from them.
“More than 100 nonprofit organizations who participate in our backpack mail program were surveyed, and only one respondent indicated a desire to return to backpack mail,” said Bellavia. “APS, schools and PTAs can use the service for free, and nonprofit organizations pay a nominal fee that is less costly than making copies, to distribute their flyers electronically to families. Our PTAs are excited about the service because they can use it for free to distribute their flyers, saving time and the expense of printing paper copies.”
“This program supports the APS commitment to its core value of sustainability, and many families, community members and staff have urged APS to find a paperless (environmentally friendly) alternative to backpack mail,” Bellavia noted.
High schools do not have backpack mail and thus are not slated to get the new system. After the jump, a video about Peachjar.