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Peter’s Take: Up-Zoning Plans, New APS Enrollment Projections Spur Need for Long-Range Planning

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Two stories posted on ARLnow.com last week underscore the urgent need for the County and School Boards to expedite long-range public facilities and fiscal planning.

The first story (“Never Let A Crisis Go To Waste”) quoted various activists and County Board members stressing the need to make Arlington housing more affordable by up-zoning in order to substantially increase housing supply. (Up-zoning = approving more dense development than permitted by current zoning.)

The second story (“New APS Enrollment Projections”) quoted various activists and School Board members about the need for a fourth comprehensive high school.

The most up-voted comment to the second story captured how the two stories are linked:

Gavrilo2014  Those advocating housing growth, whether “affordable” or otherwise, need to address the questions of school capacity.

First, the good news

The good news is that since the Community Facilities Study Group released its final report and recommendations in 2015, relentless pressure — primarily from citizen activists — has pushed the County and School Boards (often grudgingly) to work more closely together to integrate their forecasting methods and improve their ability to estimate future APS enrollment more accurately.

As I noted in a December 2018 column, the APS Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) has prepared an excellent report on future school facilities needs. But that FAC report was prepared prior to publication of the latest APS enrollment projections.

Second, the questionable news

Particularly since the announcement that Amazon will be locating a new HQ in Crystal City, various County Board members and citizen activists have been sending strong signals that county government is planning to unveil a series of far reaching new proposals to up-zone major areas of Arlington. A Jan. 31 story (“Arlington Must Open Up Single-Family-Neighborhoods To Different Housing Options”) further described these suggestions.

Proponents of up-zoning believe that if we increase housing supply relative to demand substantially, then housing prices will be significantly lower than they would have been otherwise. This hypothesis is alluring but must be tested in the context of long-range cost-benefit analyses in Arlington to determine whether the hoped-for benefits justify the costs. Evidence elsewhere casts doubt on the hypothesis.

Nowhere in any of these recent stories is there any indication that county government officials are planning to accompany their major up-zoning proposals with quantitative estimates of the net long-range (15-year) fiscal impacts on county and APS budgets of their proposals.

Particularly unhelpful are remarks like those by APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy about the new enrollment projections: “take a breath, look at this one year, and see if these patterns begin to play themselves out over a long period of time.” As another commenter to the enrollment story noted:

LocalChatter it sure seems like Murphy’s statement is another way of saying “I don’t want to deal with this”

Murphy has been singing the same song for many years: this year might be an aberration, so let’s wait ’till next year. Murphy consistently has been proven wrong.

The community cannot afford to wait any longer. We are out of breath. The new APS enrollment projections forecast a net deficit of 2,400 elementary school seats by 2028. Those projections don’t yet take Amazon’s arrival into account. Where will those new elementary school seats be located? How much will they cost to fill? When will the two Boards provide the answers?

Conclusion

Up-zoning designed to increase affordable housing does not entail immediate taxpayer cash subsidies in the same way that AHIF contributions do. But major up-zoning does lead directly to major public infrastructure costs, such as the need to provide new seats for new students. While affordable housing is a worthy goal, it must take its seat at the budget table along with many other community priorities.

Even before Amazon showed up, Arlington had failed to develop a long-range (15-year) plan regarding:

  • where to locate the new public facilities (e.g., schools, parks, fire stations) Arlington will need to handle the development already authorized by current zoning
  • how Arlington will pay for those new public facilities

Amazon’s arrival heightens the imperative for the two Boards to create such a long-range strategic plan and discuss it with the community before approving any proposals for major new up-zoning.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take: Support Non-Partisan Redistricting in Virginia

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Like many other states, Virginia has a partisan redistricting system. Partisan redistricting has served us poorly.

Background

Entrenched incumbents from both major Virginia political parties have worked hard to retain the current system — placing greater value on keeping their own seats than on what is in the long-term best interests of all Virginia voters.

For at least 20 years, up until last month, Republican leaders in the Virginia House of Delegates fought non-partisan redistricting. They wanted to retain their control and saw partisan redistricting as the best way to keep power.

Locked out of power, many Democrats believed they would do better with non-partisan redistricting. But that did not stop some Democratic legislative leaders, like 28-year incumbent Democratic Sen. Dick Saslaw, from spearheading the disastrous 2011 legislative deal under which Virginia Senate Democratic leaders gave Virginia House Republican leaders free reign to draw partisan delegate lines while Virginia Senate Democratic leaders received free reign to draw partisan Senate lines. Litigation over the partisan House delegate lines continues right up to today.

Sweeping gains by Democrats in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates elections, combined with the prospect that Republicans might lose control of one or both houses of the legislature in 2019, finally has led the Virginia Republican House leadership to support some form of non-partisan redistricting.

Why non-partisan redistricting is so important

On Jan. 28, a group of 20 business leaders from Virginia, Maryland and DC published a compelling statement explaining why it is so important for both Virginia and Maryland to adopt non-partisan redistricting:

“The endemic dysfunction in our government stems from incentives in politics that promote ideological purity over pragmatic problem solving and cooperation. … We believe anti-gerrymandering measures are the logical starting point for reform, and they are urgently needed in both Maryland and Virginia. A system in which politicians pick their voters, rather than the other way around, is inherently wrong and dysfunctional. Partisan gerrymandering is a protection racket for incumbent politicians….”

Now is a critical moment in the 2019 legislative session

Non-partisan redistricting can only be adopted via a constitutional amendment. To amend the Virginia Constitution, an identical amendment must be passed by both legislative houses and signed by the governor in two consecutive years. After passage in the second year, Virginia voters need to approve the amendment in a statewide vote.

Those two consecutive years must be 2019 and 2020 in order to have the new non-partisan system in place in time to be utilized when the 2020 U.S. census results must be used (in 2021) to draw new legislative lines for 2021-2031.

The clock is ticking on the 2019 legislative session.

Where the 2019 legislative session stands now

Competing non-partisan redistricting bills are under consideration in the legislature: “All the bills on the table show real movement toward reform, said Brian Cannon, executive director of OneVirginia2021 [a redistricting reform advocacy group].”

On January 31, the Virginia Senate unanimously (40-0) passed SJ306, a bill defining the Senate’s preferred version of non-partisan redistricting.

One provision in HJ615, a Virginia House of Delegates bill sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-88th District), has drawn criticism from Democrats. That provision seeks to “preserve the political parity between the two political parties receiving the highest and next highest number of votes in the immediately preceding gubernatorial election.” Progress Virginia, a liberal advocacy group, correctly concludes that this provision “defeats the purpose of redistricting reform, regardless of what political party may benefit from the rule.”

Conclusion

Virginia legislative leaders from both parties need to agree in this legislative session on bipartisan legislation providing non-partisan redistricting reform. Please contact them and urge them to do so.

(Disclosure: I called on Governor Northam to resign.)

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take: Aquatics Center’s Soft Costs Escalate While Arlington Expects Hard Fiscal Landing

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Tuesday (Jan. 29), the County Board approved a contract for a new A/V system for the Aquatics Center.

It first appeared from a reading of a county staff report (Item 23 at pp. 2-3) that the “soft costs” of the new A/V system were being paid for out of a total of $3.2 million in “new funding.”

Background

When the County Board approved the Aquatics Center’s design-build contract in Nov. 2017, $7.5 million was included for soft costs (at p. 12) to cover “construction administration, county staff time, permits, other consultants, FF&E, technology, and public art.”

The staff report before the Board last night said that these soft costs had escalated 42.7 percent to $10.7 million (at pp. 2-3). Of the additional $3.2 million, the only new soft cost specified was a $450,700 expenditure for new A/V system:

“soft costs include construction management, project management, County staff time, permits, other consultants, FF&E, audio-visual, and public art. The funding for the audio-visual package was funded from the $10.71 million in associated soft costs, from the following funding source and account: Pay-As-You-Go (PAYG) capital funds (313.480001.80001.LBAD.0649.0000).”

The staff report does not explain how the remaining $2,749,300 of costs are allocated among all the other items noted, such as for staff time or consultant fees.

Payment for the additional soft costs

A vote on the new A/V system was pulled from last Saturday’s consent agenda by Katie Cristol after the Board received a letter from John Vihstadt questioning the expenditure.

Last night, staff members from Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) said that the $3.2 million in PayGo capital used as the source for the funding of these additional soft costs had been in last year’s CIP for the Aquatics Center all along. Therefore, they claimed, using these funds for the new soft costs did not represent any increase in the total project cost for the Aquatics Center. That total cost had been $70.7 million all along, not the $67.5 million the community had assumed.

Based on what it heard, the Board voted last night to approve the new contract for the A/V system.

The right talk, but not the right walk

The Board should not have approved the A/V contract in these fiscally austere times.

At its Jan. 2 organizational meeting, the County Board prepared the community for anticipated tough fiscal times this year: “The only responsible course is fiscal austerity, County Board Chairman Christian Dorsey said….”

Late last year, the County Manager had already warned about projected major shortfalls facing us in his proposed FY 2020 budget: “In all, the county’s combined budget deficit [including APS] could be as large as $78 million.”

Canceling the Aquatics Center project entirely still makes fiscal sense

In a June 2018 column, I explained why Arlington should cancel the Aquatics Center project entirely. The county manager’s protestations that contractors would no longer bid on Arlington contracts if we cancelled lacks credibility. So long as we meet our contractual obligations (paying the cancellation costs), contractors will continue to line up for our business.

As to the argument that cancellation would be a breach of faith with the long-time Aquatics Center advocates, we must weigh their great disappointment against the long-lasting costs to the entire Arlington community of moving forward — the opportunity cost of devoting $70.7 million in total capital funding to this project.

For the next decade, we are bumping up against our 10 percent debt service limit. Cancelling the Aquatics Center project entirely and paying off some of that debt would give us much needed wiggle room. Closing an FY 2020 budget gap of up to $78 million will preserve the priorities of the entire Arlington community far better if we cancel the Aquatics Center.

Conclusion

Canceling the Aquatics Center offers two alternatives. The Board could choose to repay the debt, giving us more flexibility in capital spending. Or it could redirect the net post-cancellation savings to other legally permissible uses.

The manager has confirmed that the County Board legally could reprogram the approved Aquatics Center bond funds for other park and recreation priorities, including these:

  • land acquisition for new parkland (the current CIP contains $0 for acquisition of new parkland over the next 10 years)
  • park infrastructure (including a smaller community pool) at Long Bridge or elsewhere

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take: How the County Board Should Find the Right Place to Park

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In her summation at the end of the County Board’s Jan. 12 Amazon “Listening Session” at the NRECA building, Board member Katie Cristol said she wished there were a magic lever to pull which would produce affordable housing. Her regretful conclusion: there is no such lever.

But our Board is focused intently on looking for levers to make housing more affordable — even if those levers aren’t magical.

Several levers the Board has signaled an intent to pull involve parking. Providing parking in various scenarios (e.g., in new, large, multi-unit residential buildings) is very expensive. It may by itself push prices for units beyond the means of some renters or buyers. Several of these actual or potential parking policies are drawing strong resident pushback.

Examples of recent parking policy controversies

  • American Legion Post 139 (Washington Boulevard)

Parking has emerged as a “key concern” relating to APAH’s proposed affordable housing project.

  • Forest Glen (Residential Zone 24)

Residents are “angry” that the County Board could end residential zone parking restrictions in this zone at its meeting on Jan. 26. The most up-voted comment to an ARLnow.com story on this controversy highlighted the County government’s confusion over the scope of the current “moratorium” on adding/subtracting/changing current residential permit parking zones:

BBMS Yesterday’s article: County not likely to change neighborhood permit parking details around Post 139 while county-wide program is being reworked. Today: County changing neighborhood’s permit parking rules immediately.”

  • Red Top Cab

The developer looks ready to “slash parking.”

  • Virginia Hospital Center (VHC)

The County Board ultimately approved the VHC expansion plans. But the final plan cut VHC’s original request for permission to build a parking garage by more than 100 spaces after adjacent neighborhoods protested the damaging spillover parking impact on their residential areas.

Confusion, disputes plague parking policies

In a November 2017 column, I discussed some of the county government’s actual or proposed parking policies which still are the subject of strong disagreement:

  • lower parking minimums for residential projects approved by special exception that are close to Metro corridor station entrances (but how much lower, and how far from station entrances?)
  • allowances for developers to substitute bike parking, carsharing, or investments in Capital Bikeshare for fewer parking spaces (but does this discriminate against the elderly or those with disabilities?)
  • lower dedicated visitor parking minimums (but what about the spillover effect on neighborhoods?)
  • rethinking the residential zone parking program in general (but when, where, and how?)

Philosophical, ideological differences characterize parking policy discussions

We are witnessing a clash of philosophical and ideological differences over parking. To only slightly oversimplify, some want county government to:

  • adopt policies which actively discourage car use within increasingly larger portions of Arlington
  • retain policies (parking minimums for development, zone parking) which actively protect neighbors’ rights to use their own cars where they want to use them, and decide who gets to park in their neighborhoods and when
  • drop existing parking policies which increase developer costs with consequences for affordability and/or
  • reconsider the equity aspects of existing parking policies which preclude residents parking near their homes (e.g., Forest Glen Zone 24)

Conclusion

To date, discussion of the parking issues identified above has neither encouraged nor enabled the broader community to participate adequately in balancing the county-wide benefits and harms likely to result from various alternative policy options.

The current county government management structures (e.g., the county transportation staff and the Transportation Commission) need to be supplemented by a new, more community-centered discussion forum.

The County Board should:

  • consider holistically all these potential changes in parking policies as community-wide issues
  • recruit community members with substantially differing views into a new working group to report directly to the County Board on these policies

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC, a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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Peter’s Take: DPR Misled County Board, Public on Parks Plan

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

At its Jan. 8 meeting, the Arlington County Civic Federation (Civ Fed) passed a resolution 66-17-3 regarding the Level of Service (LOS) recommendations for athletic fields contained in the latest draft of the Public Open Spaces Master Plan (“PSMP” or “POPS” plan). (LOS is an acronym for Level of Service.)

Among many other provisions, the Civ Fed’s two-page resolution calls upon the Arlington County government to “withdraw the specific LOS athletic field recommendations” from the POPS plan.

Civ Fed’s January 8 program was designed to stimulate dialogue and improve understanding of this complicated topic. Civ Fed invited the county staff to have an open conversation with its delegates specifically about the lack of supply/demand data and the transparency of the public POPS process. While staff from Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) were the most knowledgeable people to answer specific methodology questions, the County Manager declined to have DPR staff attend.

Instead, two volunteer resident members of the POPS Advisory Committee spoke on the county’s behalf. They tried to defend DPR’s lack of transparency, while two other residents and proponents of the resolution explained DPR’s own data, which were accessed through a residents’ FOIA request and a six-month resident analysis reviewing diamond fields only. DPR should have defended and explained their process and data, not residents.

Standard industry LOS methodology was not followed; analyses and documents left out

DPR told the County Board, county commissions, stakeholders, and the general public that DPR was following a standard industry methodology called “Population Based LOS” to provide quantitative estimates of levels of service. But, DPR didn’t follow it.

DPR excluded from its calculations and from the public POPS process the abundance of supply/demand field data and analyses which DPR had in its files. But according to DPR’s own consultants’ standard industry methodology statement, these data are necessary to determine Population Based LOS correctly: “Each community determine its own LOS standard based on current supply and demand and future supply/demand projections” POPS_LOS Methodology_171220.  This LOS methodology statement was discovered among the documents produced via the FOIA.

DPR’s exclusion is significant. Among the other documents residents obtained under FOIA were DPR’s own analysis showing adequate diamond field facilities through 2035 in contrast to the deficits indicated by the improperly calculated LOS currently in the POPS plan.

Further details explaining how DPR did not follow standard industry methodology are available here.

The importance of the PSMP plan and LOS facility recommendations to long-term planning

The accuracy of LOS for specific categories of facilities — or lack thereof — can be hugely important to subsequent planning decisions.

These specific quantitative LOS recommendations will be used over the next 20 years to decide:

  • how acres of public parkland will be used (i.e., more or different sports fields, casual use space, or other features)
  • whether to install multi-million-dollar capital improvements (i.e., synthetic turf and/or lights)

These decisions must be considered in a holistic plan developed according to proper standard industry methodology and based on how Arlington residents actually use and need these facilities. Without such a plan, it will not be possible for residents to:

  • prioritize which facilities are needed in individual parks
  • introduce comprehensive, supply/demand data in any subsequent individual park planning proceeding because such data can only be developed reliably on a county-wide basis, in a county-wide proceeding

Conclusion

Approving the POPS plan while it still contains the erroneous and incomplete quantitative facility (LOS) recommendations will cause the misallocation of tens of millions of tax dollars and substantially harm efforts to meet residents’ needs and priorities in our public spaces.

As the Civ Fed has recognized and supported, the best solution to the present situation is to:

  • remove the erroneous LOS recommendations for sports fields before approving the final POPS plan
  • commence a new, independent and transparent process to:
  1. develop new quantitative estimates of county-wide supply/demand for sports fields
  2. develop new priority systems to maximize the efficient use of our existing fields
  3. implement an online reservation system to ensure that facility usage is transparent to the public and sports users
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Peter’s Take: No Virginia Tax Dollars for New Redskins Stadium

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Jan. 9, Virginia House of Delegates member Michael Webert (R-Fauquier) offered legislation (HB 1886) that would, if enacted, establish:

“an interstate compact among the Commonwealth of Virginia, the State of Maryland, and the District of Columbia (the party states) that prohibits the party states from providing incentives for a Washington area professional football team franchise facility, including tax incentives, state or local appropriations, and loans.”

In support of his bill, Webert explained,“think tanks on the left and right show the subsidies that go to professional stadiums, there really is not the return on investment that everybody says there is.”

State Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) disputed Webert, holding out hope that Virginia would at least be willing to “offer to build a Metro station or highway ramp to serve a stadium, or provide land for it at a nominal rent.”

Football stadiums do not spur significant economic growth

The evidence is overwhelming that subsidizing the construction of a new Redskins football stadium will never be in the best interests of Virginia taxpayers:

“Roger Noll, an economist who studies sports-stadium subsidies at Stanford University, says he has never witnessed the construction of a football stadium that has had a significant positive impact on the local economy.”    

Direct costs outweigh the benefits

Fifty-seven percent of a panel of U.S economic experts agreed that the costs to taxpayers are likely to outweigh the benefits, while only 2 percent disagreed–though several panelists noted that some contributions of local sports teams are difficult to quantify.

Subsidizing stadiums is a game that taxpayers lose: “Governments should never finance a stadium with public money as it is simply a subsidy to rich team owners and a few businesses that stand to benefit from the events held there.”

Opportunity costs further tilt the balance against taxpayer funding

The costs of a new Virginia stadium for the Redskins are even higher when you factor in the opportunity costs. Virginia tax dollars spent on such a stadium would be tax dollars that could have been spent to:

  • increase Virginia’s state share of the new dedicated funding stream for Metro
  • increase Virginia’s state share of public education funding
  • redress some of the many remaining critical deficiencies in Virginia’s mental health facilities
  • help bring high-speed broadband to rural areas of Virginia that currently lack it

These are only four of hundreds of more deserving needs than a Redskins stadium.

Dan Snyder doesn’t need the money

Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder is a billionaire who doesn’t need a public hand out. Any Virginia tax dollars for a new Redskins stadium will go directly into Dan Snyder’s pockets.

A 2003 study by a member of the University of Texas economics department documented that a new stadium increases:

  • team profits by an average of $13 million annually
  • payroll salaries by $14 million annually
  • team book value by $90 million

Sixteen years later, all these numbers are likely to be much higher.

Conclusion

Regardless of what DC or Maryland decide to do, nothing related to any new Redskins stadium should be subsidized by Virginia taxpayers. Dan Snyder should arrange 100 percent private financing. Under these conditions, Snyder could build his stadium in Virginia if he could find a welcoming local government.

San Francisco 49’ers cornerback Richard Sherman got it right: “I’d stop spending billions of taxpayer dollars on stadiums…and maybe make the billionaires who actually benefit from the stadiums pay for them.”

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Peter’s Take: Virginia Should Adopt No-Excuse Absentee Voting

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The 2019 Virginia legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

Once again, a batch of proposed bills have been submitted which, if enacted, would authorize no-excuse absentee voting in Virginia.

No-excuse absentee voting bills

Some of these no-excuse absentee voting bills have been continued from the 2018 legislative session, e.g., SB 136 submitted by state Sen. Janet Howell (who represents portions of Arlington). Others are new, e.g., HB 1641 submitted by state Del. Charniele Herring..

Virginia should enact a law authorizing no-excuse absentee voting

Like other voting rights issues, Arlington voters only can obtain the right to no-excuse absentee voting if that right is enacted at the state level because Virginia is a Dillon Rule state.

Virginia has developed a series of 16 narrow, but often confusing and overlapping, excuses that entitle registered voters to vote absentee before Election Day. Unless your reason for wanting to vote absentee fits squarely within one or more of the 16 categories on the authorized list, you can’t vote absentee.

Virginia’s current system should be changed. It should be replaced by a system that permits any registered voter to vote absentee without having to provide any excuse.

Reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting

The most important reason why the current system should be changed is that experience in many other states has demonstrated that no-excuse absentee voting enables more legally registered voters to vote to choose their elected officials. The broader the base on which our political leadership rests, the more likely that decisions made by our leaders will be respected.

The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area has prepared a helpful checklist of reasons to support no-excuse absentee voting. Those reasons are:

  • All voters should have equal access to the ballot
  • No voter should have to provide personal unrelated information to cast a ballot
  • Voters have found their eligibility to vote before Election Day very confusing
  • Voting absentee in-person is as secure as voting on Election Day
  • Local election offices have had success in reducing long lines on Election Day by encouraging absentee voting
  • For voting absentee in-person, eliminating the cumbersome process of completing the absentee application would save time as well as the expense of printing the form
  • Extra personnel are needed to explain the form and check it for completion before a voter can proceed to checking in
  • Eliminating the use of the application form would speed the voting process considerably

Opponents of a no-excuse absentee voting system have argued that it encourages too many more voters to vote too early, thereby foreclosing their opportunity to vote based on late-breaking developments in a political campaign. Weighing this risk against the depression of voter turnout under the current system, the benefits of providing more opportunities to vote outweigh the risks that some voters might regret that they voted too early.

Both Democrats and Republicans should support no-excuse absentee voting

Twenty eight states and the District of Columbia permit any qualified voter to vote absentee without offering an excuse. Those states include so-called “red” states such as South Dakota and Wyoming as well as so-called “blue” states like California and Vermont. Therefore, absentee voting should be a subject on which Virginia Republicans and Virginia Democrats also ought to be able to agree.

Conclusion

No-excuse absentee voting will enable more eligible Virginia voters to vote.

The current patchwork quilt of 16 authorized excuses should be replaced by: no excuses necessary.

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Peter’s Take: The Fiscal Impacts of Development in Arlington

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In a Dec. 17 interview, County Manager Mark Schwartz, when asked about Arlington County government’s projected $20-$35 million FY 2020 budget deficit, stated:

“For the last [several] years, the commercial market has either been flat or going down. If revenue grows less than your expenses, you already have a gap. Now, add on top of that the obligations to Metro, expansion of Medicaid, public safety pay increases, steady funding for affordable housing and you get to $20-$35 million quickly.”

Schwartz also acknowledged that:

  • at least in the short run, Amazon’s arrival in Arlington will not solve the county government’s structural budget problem
  • APS is projecting a $43 million (!) FY 2020 budget deficit

Fiscal Impact Analyses of Development

There are some steps the County Board should take early in 2019 regarding the fiscal impacts of development across the county, especially in light of the major land use changes now planned in Crystal City by JBG Smith and Amazon.

At its April 21 meeting, the County Board took one small, partial step in the right direction. As part of its FY 2019 budget guidance, the Board directed the manager to develop for Board review by the end of this calendar year (2018) a plan for preparing and making public periodic, retroactive cost-benefit analyses of new residential and commercial development on an aggregate rather than a project-specific basis.

The manager has yet to share for discussion with the community a draft of his proposed approach to this Board directive.

  • Project-specific fiscal impact statements needed for major site plan projects

As I have previously explained, what Arlington really should do is adopt the recommendation of the Community Facilities Study Group (CFSG) for prospective, site plan-specific, fiscal impact statements. We need project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements for each major site plan project, particularly to measure impacts on schools and parks.

Multiple studies have demonstrated that constructing new, large multi-unit residential projects consistently generates more new costs than new revenues. The most comprehensive “cost of community services” survey of 125 jurisdictions nationwide found that the mean ratio was $1.18 of incremental costs incurred compared to every $1 of incremental revenues generated (at p. 392).

This comprehensive study’s results recently were corroborated by noted GMU economist Stephen Fuller in a November 2018 Amazon Arlington HQ fiscal impact study (at Table 6).

Just some examples of the other studies reaching the same net-negative-cost-impact results are available here and here.

  • Arlington County Attorney continues to block transparency

The adoption of project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements for major site plan projects continues to be blocked by the stubborn and unjustified refusal by the Arlington County attorney to release for review by independent legal experts a public-facing version of his existing legal memorandum that Arlington lacks the legal power to implement the carefully-considered CFSG recommendation for such statements.

The County Attorney has been refusing to disclose his detailed legal reasoning to the public for at least 5 years.

In an interview with ARLnow.com earlier this year, the county attorney also demonstrated that he does not understand the facts regarding development and school enrollment growth. He mistakenly believes that “the practice of replacing small, single-family homes on large lots with multiple new homes tends to drive most of the strain on Arlington’s classrooms.” To the contrary, the principal enrollment growth challenge APS confronts now is the absolute total number of students generated when:

  • thousands of elevator apartment units are being built every year
  • these units are not evenly distributed across the county

Conclusion

Arlington County government:

  • cannot legally proclaim a moratorium on by-right development even if it realized that it previously might have approved too much of it
  • can and should prepare project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements for major site plan projects in which developers are seeking more density than permitted by current zoning
  • should be able to condition approval of such projects on the developer’s willingness to provide community benefits directly tied to the impact of the project on schools and/or parks
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Peter’s Take: County Manager Plan Discourages Volunteer Recruitment

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The County Board approved the Four Mile Run Valley Area Plan (Area Plan) at its Nov. 17 meeting. A Dec. 13 c ounty press release summarizes the plan.

The plan recommends the continuation of industrial and commercial uses, while also encouraging more arts-related uses. The recommendations also call for a new working group to duplicate what another county committee already has accomplished.

That new working group will:

  • waste government resources and volunteer time
  • discourage future volunteer recruitment

Background

At the direction of the County Board, the Arts District Committee was formed to study the possible creation of an Arts District in the Four Mile Run Valley Area. With significant and constructive input from businesses, arts representatives and the community, a detailed report, known as the SNAIQ report, was issued. Like other parts of the Four Mile Run Valley study, this report was shared widely through numerous meetings and public engagements.

What the County Manager is mistakenly doing now

A county manager Oct. 12 report recommended a new planning process to identify “an arts/industry vision.” This manager’s report also recommended the appointment of a new working group to work on this project for at least a year.

Referencing the existing SNAIQ report, the county manager’s  Oct. 12 report states: “while these suggestions have not yet been fully analyzed by staff, staff would make this information available to the future working group established to advance the arts district idea.”

The SNAIQ report was published in 2017. The County government now has admitted that it hasn’t reviewed it, yet it somehow did find the time to recommend a new working group to duplicate what another county committee already has accomplished?

In outlining the proposed new working group process, county staff, at an Oct. 20 County Board hearing, said it wanted to “establish a vision for a possible arts district” and “look at a variety of scenarios… and pros and cons” (beginning at 1:16:17 and at 2:01:16 and in the county manager’s report).

This is a direct duplication of what the existing Arts District Committee already did in preparing the SNAIQ report. (Just read page two of the SNAIQ report to verify.)

Conclusion

I have previously criticized the possible use of new taxpayer subsidies that might be part of the creation of a formal Arts District. Before any serious consideration is given to any such new taxpayer subsidies, the County Board must adopt a comprehensive 21st century arts subsidy policy and engage in a transparent cost benefit analysis of any proposed Arts District.

However, the County Manager’s plan for a new working group essentially ignores a significant and effective job by volunteers on an authorized, existing county committee (page 5).

County Board members often proclaim that recruiting and encouraging residents to serve on county committees is a high priority, but the county manager’s plan here will have exactly the opposite effect. The County Board failed us by acquiescing in the manager’s plan at its Nov. 17 hearing. (The county government even failed to post on its website a Nov. 16 letter from the existing Arts District Committee explaining its position.)

The Arts District Committee ably fulfilled its charge. If further work needs to be done, this existing committee would like to do it. Instead of duplicating its significant work, the county should ask this existing committee to continue its work with a new, expanded portfolio.

As one Arts District Committee member stated, “All in all, I think the Arts District Committee experience has been a model for how such groups can and should operate – dare I say it, a model of ‘the Arlington Way.'”

Proceeding with a new working group in these circumstances mocks the Arlington Way.

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Peter’s Take: Cancel the Science Focus-Key Swap

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In October, I explained why the Arlington Public Schools superintendent was placing the cart before the horse by proposing to swap the buildings currently housing the Arlington Science Focus (ASFS) and Key Elementary Schools.

On Nov. 16, APS staff posted a new FAQ document that continues to dodge these major questions:

  • does the swap make sense?
  • should the School Board leave that decision to APS staff?

The School Board should direct the Superintendent to cancel the ASFS-Key building swap

APS’s premise that the Superintendent can approve this swap because it only entails swapping programs is incorrect. Further, given the major level of disruption that a swap would cause, the School Board should step-up and own any swap decision as a matter of community accountability.

An APS memorandum (“memo”) discussed at an August 28th School Board meeting offered six reasons for the swap. None of those reasons justify a swap:

  1. The memo states that ASFS is the only neighborhood school that sits outside its attendance boundary. It proposes the swap to fix this without thoughtful consideration of what a new boundary could offer. APS created this problem via its Options and Transfer Policy. APS should fix it by drawing a revised attendance boundary around ASFS.
  2. The memo states that the Key building can accommodate all 680 ASFS K-5 current students through use of trailers. However, if APS intends to move the ASFS program to the Key building, APS also needs to move the associated equipment to Key, reducing the Key building capacity to 605 students. Meanwhile immersion students will be crammed into a building that is 19 percent smaller.
  3. The memo states that a swap offers more flexibility than boundary changes. APS guarantees that once a student is admitted to an option school or accepts a transfer to a neighborhood school, enrollment is continuous until there is a boundary change. Since the School Board plans to revisit all boundaries in 2020, APS should maximize its flexibility by waiting for the next boundary process to determine if option and neighborhood schools should be moved. If a program move is needed (such as moving an elementary immersion program), a county-wide analysis should first be published and discussed with the community to determine the optimum locations of elementary immersion programs and to locate neighborhood schools in places where all the seats will be filled.
  4. The memo claims the swap would minimize the number of students needing to be reassigned to different schools. But as demonstrated repeatedly during the just-concluded South Arlington boundary process, parents deserve to be highly skeptical of such APS assurances. Rather than make an impetuous decision, APS should wait until the 2020 boundary process to determine if program moves are needed and all APS sites should be considered.
  5. The memo claims the swap would reduce transportation time for students, incorrectly comparing the 46 percent of students who could walk to Key to the 18 percent of students APS says can walk to ASFS. But the superintendent did not do a comparative analysis of crossing guards and walkability. Others have. Their analysis shows that drawing a boundary around ASFS and adding a crossing guard at N. Kirkwood Road enables more walkers than Key. The Key crossing guard enables 62 students to walk, while one at Kirkwood will enable 184 more ASFS students to walk. ASFS’s ½-mile and 1-mile walkability rates are 40 percent and 51 percent respectively, while Key’s are 28 percent and 46 percent. Drawing a reasonable boundary around ASFS yields the greatest reduction in the number of busses and reduces transportation time for many students who have one of the longest bus rides in APS (to Ashlawn Elementary) even though they live within ½-mile of ASFS. During a $43 million APS budget shortfall, this fiscally responsible path forward has no “TBD”-program-move costs and reduces overall transportation costs.
  6. Finally, the memo notes that the current constrained ASFS walk zone is not diverse. But, for diversity purposes, APS should be comparing attendance boundaries not walk zones. The families who live within 1-mile of ASFS are diverse. Moreover, APS overlooks major developments that will provide diversity like the 100 percent committed affordable housing American Legion redevelopment in the same planning unit as ASFS.

Conclusion

Even to the casual observer, the Superintendent’s proposed ASFS-Key building swap exposes a lack of basic long-range planning. For that reason alone, the School Board should cancel the swap and work to regain the public trust.

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Peter’s Take: Arlington Must Jump Start Long-Range Schools Planning

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Amazon’s new Arlington HQ injects an even greater sense of urgency into planning for all the new public schools Arlington will need over the next 15 years.

In an interview striving to minimize Amazon’s impact on our schools, County Board Chair Katie Cristol observed:

A job doesn’t create students. A housing unit or a family generates students. Our highest estimates are that 15 to 20 percent (4,000 to 5,000) of these Amazon employees will live in Arlington County. [W]e anticipate that’s between 80 and 100 more students (from pre-K to 12th grade) per year, and that’s at the high peak…

I think the most important thing for our schools is that the increasing tax base coming from [Amazon] could bring up to $360 million over 16 years, of which 46 percent will go to our schools. [E]ven under the most extreme scenarios [that additional revenue] will more than supplement [the increase in student population].

Arlington has failed to develop an integrated, community-supported, long-range financing plan for all necessary new public facilities (including schools)

Arlington prides itself on its comprehensive planning:

But neither APS nor fiscal considerations have been appropriately integrated into any of those long-range plans.

Since Arlington has failed to develop an integrated, community supported, long-range financing plan for all the new public facilities Arlington will need over the next 15 years, we cannot evaluate fully Chair Cristol’s hopes about Amazon’s minimal impact on our schools.

Will we have the bond capacity to make all the transportation (including Metro), affordable housing, schools, parks, fire stations and other public investments that will be required? Will we have such bond capacity under several different, but all plausible, alternative economic scenarios? Note: as taxes increase to meet these added costs, those tax increases will inflate the costs of many other items, including “affordable” housing.

When asked to choose among:

  • “X” more needed new school seats
  • “Y” more needed new acres of park open space
  • “Z” more needed new units of affordable housing

we don’t know now how the community would prioritize those choices.

And, it is certain that such choices will be required.

Arlington’s failure to plan appropriately for the impact on APS enrollment of new, large multi-unit housing developments undermines Chair Cristol’s optimism. The county and APS continue to promote the fantasy that new elevator apartments don’t present significant challenges for APS because such apartments generate only 0.08 students per unit. However, the principal challenge we confront isn’t the per-unit generation rate but rather the absolute number of students generated when:

  • thousands of these units are being built every year
  • these units are not evenly distributed across the county

Conclusion

The APS Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC) has prepared an excellent report on future school facilities needs. But many of that report’s recommendations have not progressed due to a lack of an appropriate sense of urgency by the County and School Boards.

Successful long-range (15 years) facilities planning must follow these principles:

  • publication of several alternative financial scenarios and their direct costs, opportunity costs, and benefits
  • soliciting and honoring the community’s priorities among those scenarios
  • specific goals and timetables by which critical decisions must be made
  • clear understanding of who is responsible for meeting those goals and timetables

Arlington lacks an appropriate long-range facilities plan now because it has failed to follow these principles.

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Peter’s Take: Latest ‘POPS’ Plan’s Other Serious Flaws

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In a November 8 column, I discussed some serious flaws in Arlington County’s latest draft of its proposed Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP) or POPS plan. That column discussed errors in the quantitative estimates of present and future demand for sports fields prepared by the staff of the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR).

Today’s column identifies additional weaknesses in the latest PSMP/POPS draft.

Impact of Amazon’s Arlington Headquarters

On November 13, Arlington County announced the new Amazon HQ2 facility to be located in Crystal City. In welcoming Amazon, Congressman Don Beyer also expressed caution:

“We all know that success presents its own challenges:

  • Ensuring that the quality of life — parks and open spaces, safe neighborhoods, well-educated children — keeps pace with rising wealth.”

Amazon’s arrival underscores the urgency of correcting the PSMP draft’s substantive flaws to ensure the most efficient and effective possible use of Arlington’s limited land and financial resources.

Statistically valid evidence of community priorities omitted

A 2016 public survey’s statistically valid results appear to have been omitted from this PSMP draft. These data were used to produce Fig. 17 in a previous PSMP draft. Fig. 17 displayed the respondents’ top priority investments for outdoor spaces and public parks, with the overwhelming majority of residents choosing hiking trails, natural areas & wildlife habitats, and paved multiuse trails as their highest priorities.

As documented in the survey graphic below, Arlington residents are not prioritizing the continuing development of public parkland with lots of expensive “amenities.” But, Arlington County’s DPR staff is pushing for expensive, new outdoor infrastructure that will deplete our constrained financial resources.

DPR’s spending priorities conflict with Arlington residents’ priorities.

Virtually no new funding for open space acquisition

The latest PSMP draft calls for acquiring 30 more acres of park/open space. Unfortunately, this is an empty promise. The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) adopted by the County Board in July 2018 contains NO new park/open space acquisition funding for the next 10 years:   

“With no new funding scheduled from bond funds over the next ten years, the Program will focus on utilizing remaining Bond and PAYG balances (approximately $3.5 M) to fund high priority opportunities that arise.” Adopted FY2019-FY2028 CIP, p. C-51.

(Note: Roughly half of this $3.5 million is earmarked to purchase the WETA building in the Four Mile Run Valley, where County staff intends to create an “arts district.”)

With little to no new park/open space acquisition in the foreseeable future, it becomes imperative for us to preserve, not pave over, the limited natural space we still have.

Conclusion

Because the POPS plan guides all Arlington park and recreational planning decisions for the next 20 years, we must get it right.

The latest PSMP draft should be amended to

  • reinsert the 2016 statistically valid needs survey data showing community priorities for investments in parks and recreational facilities,
  • use these survey data to set priorities,
  • acknowledge the lack of funding for the next decade to acquire new open spaces, and
  • place a greater emphasis on sustainability–including the preservation and restoration of existing parkland and natural spaces by reducing existing facilities’ footprints, by trimming nonpriority new facilities, and by converting dedicated fields and sport courts into multiuse facilities that serve the greatest number of people and needs.
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Peter’s Take: Parks Countywide Planning Document is Still Seriously Flawed

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

On Oct. 24, Arlington County posted on its website the latest draft of its proposed Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP), or POPS plan (Plan for Our Places and Spaces).

The POPS plan will guide all Arlington park and recreational planning decisions for the next 20 years.

The latest POPS draft incorporates highly inflated quantitative estimates of present and future demand for sports fields.

After the 2017 POPS draft was posted, Arlington residents sought information to understand the plan. The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) refused to provide many kinds of data and answers, so residents launched a series of FOIA requests in December 2017.

By late Spring 2018, DPR had produced a lot, but not all, of its data regarding field supply and demand. Those data demonstrate that a remarkable amount of inefficiency and mismanagement have resulted in a very large amount of unused field capacity. Further details are available here.

Despite the large discrepancy between DPR’s own supply/demand data and the public POPS recommendations, DPR continues to defend to the public, to the POPS Advisory Committee, and to the County Board that the POPS recommendations are valid because DPR is using a valid methodology which DPR has called a “Population Based LOS.” (LOS = Level of Service.)

While a properly performed estimate of Population Based LOS is indeed one methodology used to estimate park needs, DPR’s own expert consultants state that a properly performed LOS should be based on current and future supply/demand data. Their methodology statement was provided to DPR but was not made part of the POPS document.

Not only did DPR fail to incorporate that necessary data, it failed to tell the public that it had not done so. Further details are available here.

Approving erroneous supply/demand estimates is destined to misallocate land and tens of millions of Arlington taxpayer dollars

The POPS plan is intended to guide quantitative park and recreational decisions for 20 years. Therefore, basing that final plan on the erroneous and incomplete LOS recommendations will result in the misallocation of tens of millions of tax dollars and hamper efforts to meet residents’ needs.

That misallocation is destined to occur because in any subsequent proceedings, e.g., to develop an individual park’s master plan or whether to make investments (e.g., add synthetic turf or lights), it is inevitable that DPR and advocates for such investments will rely on the erroneous POPS quantitative estimates to justify those decisions.

In response to the concerns raised, some County Board members have suggested that subsequent individual park planning could consider a single facility’s usage to determine its need or new investment. However, county-wide demand needs to be determined in a county-wide proceeding.

It is completely impractical for any large park facility decision to be developed solely within its own park boundaries, ignoring the capacity of nearby and county-wide facilities (e.g., a decision to add synthetic turf to one field, while another field that could be used has enough excess capacity). Further details are available here http://parks4everyone.org/population-based-level-of-service/.

Conclusion

The best solution to the present situation is to:

  • remove the erroneous quantitative estimates for sports field demand from the final POPS plan
  • commence a new, independent and transparent process to:
  1. develop new quantitative estimates of county-wide supply/demand for sports fields
  2. replace the county’s current field scheduling system with a real-time, web-based system
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Peter’s Take: Re-Elect Independent John Vihstadt to the County Board

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Like thousands of other Arlington Democrats, I support independent John Vihstadt for re-election to the County Board.

Having an independent as one of the five Board members provides oversight, accountability, checks and balances.

John helped redirect the Board’s priorities

The Board is now more focused on core services:

  • Ended or scaled back many extravagant projects, like the streetcar, the aquatics center, the Artisphere, $1.6 million dog parks and million-dollar bus stops.
  • Prioritized funding for schools’ capacity and Metro while improving roads, parks, and public safety.

John’s community-centered vision for the future

Arlington’s population is forecast to continue to grow. That growth is a sign that we are considered a desirable place to live.

John commutes to work daily via public transit. He is the only County Board candidate who put children through Arlington Public Schools.

John has the many years of community experience necessary to implement his vision for Arlington’s future by properly managing growth.

Here’s how:

Developer contributions for schools and parks

John already has led the way to get the county soon to begin conducting development impact studies. John wants to reform developer contributions received in return for added density so that more money can go towards public facilities such as schools and parks.

Better coordination with our public schools

John is working to bring down Arlington’s high cost of school construction, to deliver new seats more quickly, and to help ensure educational equity for all Arlington communities through sound planning and adequate funding.

Community engagement from the start

John believes development impacts are better addressed when the full range of residents and stakeholders are made part of the discussion from the start, not as an afterthought.

Lowering the office vacancy rate

Free-market macroeconomic forces beyond county government’s control are a significant factor in our office vacancy rate. But, it’s still imperative that we lower that rate to hold down the tax burden on residents. John believes we must make the business environment more attractive through carefully structured economic incentives and minimizing red tape such as further reforming our permitting systems.

Improved environmental management

John believes we must do everything within our legal powers to address the negative effects of increased impervious surfaces on water run-off, our green space, and our tree canopy.

Stronger fiscal discipline

Continued funding pressures from needed school capacity and Metro repairs means it’s more essential than ever to spend our limited tax dollars wisely on core services – not extravagant projects. John is leading reforms to our approaches to end-of-year budget surpluses and to neighborhood infrastructure improvements.

Conclusion

Tribal partisanship has no place in local government decisions.

Extravagant projects like streetcars, a hyped-up aquatics center, million-dollar bus stops and fancy dog parks are not core Democratic Party values. Yet such projects sprung from group-think on a five-person Democratic County Board.

John has brought together voters from across the political spectrum, striving to take partisanship out of local issues. He has rightly questioned “the way we’ve always done things”.

We need a reliably fiscally conservative voice on the Board to evaluate the serious budget challenges coming next year and in following years.

You can read about John’s years of community service, more details on the issues on which he is running, and his support from across the political spectrum here.

Independent John Vihstadt should be re-elected on Nov. 6.

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Peter’s Take: Science Focus-Key Swap — Cart Before the Horse

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

As ARLnow.com reported again last week, Arlington Public Schools (APS) is pursuing a highly controversial plan to swap the building currently providing the Spanish immersion program at Key Elementary with the building currently providing the science-focused program at Arlington Science Focus (ASFS) Elementary.

According to APS Spokesman Frank Bellavia:

  • It remains unclear just how the process of swapping the buildings actually will work
  • APS has yet to work up a cost estimate for the process
  • Questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019

The School Board must own or disown this proposed swap

The proposed decision to swap these two school buildings was publicized in these comments by APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy at an August 28 School Board meeting:

” ‘This decision is a wise decision because we’re a growing school division, we’re adding capacity, and we really have come to this point,’ Murphy told the Board….He added that he doesn’t see any need for the Board to formally sign off on the plan…but the Board will get to help APS decide when the move happens.”

Really?

Large segments of the community are, and should be, upset by this casual description of a decision of this magnitude. The community now has witnessed elected School Board members being told by the APS Superintendent that the School Board only will “get to help APS decide when the move happens.”

This shouldn’t work this way.

School Board members themselves were taken aback on August 28:

Board Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out, “That’s going to create problems if and when boundaries are drawn.”

“If the Arlington Science Focus building is smaller and the immersion program is bigger, we’re not going to be able to grow [the] immersion program,” said Vice Chair Tannia Talento.

This is an unacceptable process.

The School Board itself should decide IF the move should happen at all. The School Board’s decision should be based upon transparent long-term strategic planning for all of APS’s programming and facilities’ needs. The School Board owes the community an extensive discussion regarding how all these plans fit together:

  • what is APS’s 15-year school facilities plan?
  • what is Arlington County’s 15-year county facilities plan?
  • what is APS’s 15-year instructional plan?
  • where do the programs now offered at Key and ASFS fit into these 15-year plans?
  • what other options besides the current proposed building swap were considered?
  • why is the proposed building swap the best available option?

The School Board must engage the community on whether this proposed swap makes sense

According to Frank Bellavia, “questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019.”

Yet again APS is proposing to engage the community on the wrong question. The right question is whether the swap makes sense in the first place. Only after that question is posed to, and thoroughly discussed with the community, should the discussion proceed to the mechanics of how any swap should occur.

Conclusion

In one of the most famous scenes in Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts, over Alice’s protests, proclaims: “Sentence First, Verdict Afterword.”

With this proposed school swap, APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy threatens to displace the Queen of Hearts.

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