Arlington, VA

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 previously reported in 2015, the Arlington School Board unanimously amended its non-discrimination policy to add gender identity as a protected category.

The current version of that APS policy (J-2) is here.

Overwhelming health and scientific evidence support APS’ policy

The current SB policy is strongly supported by conclusions reached by prominent national health, scientific and educational organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Association, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association.

APS experience since 2015 underscores need for prompt adoption of implementation plan

Since the SB adopted its policy, there has been widespread confusion about how to implement it. Very inconsistent decisions about implementing the policy have been reached from one school to another.

The need for prompt adoption of an implementation plan is illustrated by the following actual situations APS students have faced:

  • a transgender student who was not comfortable using either the boys’ or girls’ locker room to change for P.E. was required to go down to the gym on the first floor to retrieve gym clothes from a P.E. teacher’s office, go up a flight of stairs to change in a private bathroom, then go back down the stairs in P.E. uniform to the gym for class… and then repeat this process in reverse after class
  • a teacher insisted that a student wear a skirt for band concerts, despite the student’s desire to wear the pants uniform (the student’s gender expression is masculine, she never wears skirts); the student ended up quitting band because the teacher would not relent
  • a non-binary student was left standing in the middle of the gym after the gym teacher divided up the students into boys’ and girls’ lines… and then had to instruct the teacher on what being non-binary means
  • a student had arranged with the administrators and PE teachers that he could use the PE teachers’ bathroom for changing. Halfway through the school year, one of the PE teachers (not the student’s) no longer liked the arrangement, and the child lost that option
  • students have been harassed by both staff members and other students while using the bathroom; some students have had staff and other students try to block them from entering a bathroom
  • students have avoided using the bathroom at school, due to both fear of harassment and inconvenience; students have avoided drinking water so that they can make it through the day without needing the bathroom
  • students have not been allowed to change their gender or name on school forms and records, even after getting a court ordered name change or new birth certificate
  • a transgender student was diagnosed with PTSD because of bullying and abuse from peers

These examples illustrate why it is vital for APS staff to adopt a formal policy implementation procedure (PIP). This is a K-12 issue. The PIP will lead to more consistency throughout schools, more understanding on the part of staff and parents, and more training for staff on best practices in supporting transgender and non-binary students.

Summary of draft PIP

The draft PIP that APS staff is proposing to adopt is discussed in the ARLnow story and posted here. It is supported by the overwhelming health and scientific evidence cited above.

Key topics covered by the draft PIP include definitions of “gender identity” and “transgender;” bathrooms and locker rooms; co-curricular and extra-curricular activities and athletic team student participation; dress code; extended instructional field trips or athletic events; names, pronouns, and classroom records; and privacy and educational records.

If this draft PIP had been in effect and properly implemented over the last four years, the traumatic incidents APS students experienced could have been avoided.

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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 in March, the Arlington County government is considering “long standing space issues” at the Trades Center.

The Trades Center is an approximately 38-acre complex located at the intersection of S. Arlington Mill Drive and S. Taylor Street. Arlington County owns approximately 32 acres of the site and approximately 6 acres are owned by APS.

The Trades Center complex consists of multiple buildings and utility structures used for various so called “back office” Arlington County government operations. The County departments that use the site include DES, DPR, ACPD, and ACFD. APS occupies space for bus storage and other facilities and operations.

A current aerial view of the Trades Center site is here.

As the County told ARLnow:

[T]he “siting of operations and offices developed when space was abundant. Now, room for growth is limited given the developed surrounding area, while service levels have increased in size and complexity”…

The Trades Center optimization study

To address its pressing space issues, the County just launched what it describes as a “Trades Center Optimization Study” designed to analyze existing programs and current and future programmatic needs.

The study is supposed to benchmark the County’s current programs and practices against those of similar municipalities. The study is intended to:

  • develop a concept plan to optimize business functions and operations on the site
  • present three alternative concept site plans
  • develop a cost estimate for the chosen site plan, with phasing of identified priorities over a 5 to 15-year period

The County says that the study will engage internal and external stakeholders and utilize feedback from stakeholders to inform recommendations.

Study consultant

The County has retained Stantec, a major consulting firm, to advise it about aspects of the study. According to a draft of the scope of work, Stantec will provide recommendations on a wide range of matters, including:

  • meet all current and future (next 15-30 years) programmatic requirements
  • incorporate co-location and “building up not out” principles
  • focus on core functions that must reside at the Trades Center
  • consider only the current footprint
  • mitigate impacts on neighbors to the extent possible

Promising things about the study

The County deserves credit for including these promising concepts in the study design:

  • long-range planning horizon (15-30 years)
  • request to present a minimum of 3 concept plans rather than just one
  • early introduction of costs into the equation

This study presents a welcome opportunity for the County to improve on its prior practices regarding long range planning and civic engagement.

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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.

I enthusiastically support incumbent Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos for the Democratic nomination in the June 11 primary.

What is the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s role?

Unlike Virginia State Senators or Delegates who make Virginia laws and policies, Virginia Commonwealth’s Attorneys must operate within the complex framework of hundreds of criminal laws and policies established in Richmond.

Under Virginia’s Constitution, our Commonwealth’s Attorney is the chief criminal trial attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church, responsible for prosecuting a full range of criminal cases, ranging from driving under the influence to murder. The office has 17 attorneys, 11 support staff and 7 victim/witness specialists who work daily preparing and prosecuting cases.

How is our criminal justice system working?

Arlington is a public safety success story. Crime rates have been brought to record lows. And, we’ve reduced crime without filling up the Arlington County Detention Center (our jail). In Sheriff Beth Arthur’s recent endorsement of Stamos, Arthur notes that the Arlington jail has “an all-time-low population averaging 370 inmates a day.” Arlington also has diversionary programs that benefit drug addicts, the mentally ill and juveniles.

Why Theo Stamos is the best choice for Arlington

As the County’s top prosecutor, Stamos has a deep understanding of Virginia law and a wealth of local criminal trial experience. Our Commonwealth’s Attorney must appear in court nearly every day, where experience and institutional knowledge are key. When not in court, Stamos spends much of her day monitoring, advising and mentoring her line prosecutors on the many felony and other cases they handle.

Theo Stamos has already proven herself up to the task. She has literally tried every type of criminal case and has overseen the Arlington/Falls Church Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the past 8 years. An active member of the Arlington County Bar Association, the statewide Virginia State Bar Council, and committees on best practices for prosecutors, Stamos is also active in our community — a member of Arlington’s NAACP branch and a member of Organized Women Voters.

As our top prosecutor, Stamos reflects Arlington’s core community values. She is decent, honest, engaged, independent, and fair. As someone who has known and worked with Theo Stamos for many years, I can attest that she embodies all these qualities, including a dash of humor, humility, and humanity.

Criminal defense attorney David Deane (Stamos’s opponent in the 2011 Democratic primary for Commonwealth’s Attorney) recently published a letter of support:

My law practice takes me to many jurisdictions; her open-door policy is something other offices around the commonwealth should emulate. She is always willing to engage in a dialogue about a case and to truly listen when defense counsel from both the court-appointed and private bar approach her with issues.

Theo Stamos has worked tirelessly to improve the criminal justice system in Arlington for victims as well as those who stand accused:

  • Chairs Arlington’s Sexual Assault Response Team and works with Project PEACE to address domestic violence and sexual assault
  • Led the creation of a state-of-the-art, sexual assault and intimate partner violence protocol that serves as a model for the Commonwealth
  • Initiated Arlington’s adult diversionary Drug Court 7 years ago
  • Started the Second Chance diversionary program for juveniles
  • Helped launch Operation Safe Station, giving drug addicts a way to turn in their drugs and get treatment without fear of arrest and prosecution

Why Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is seeking the wrong job in the wrong place

Dehghani-Tafti has almost exclusively post-conviction appellate experience, but seeks a job requiring extensive trial experience.

The most up-voted comment to a recent ARLnow.com story also captures why Dehghani-Tafti is the wrong choice:

The Soros-supported Parisa Dehghani-Tafti seems to be running a campaign based on principles espoused by progressives on the national level, without realizing that she’s in the wrong jurisdiction. She wants to “reform” Arlington’s criminal justice system… Tafti seems to be trying to reform Ferguson, MO, by running for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church. It doesn’t make sense. — oscar

Conclusion

Theo Stamos is a dedicated public servant with a proven record as a principled and progressive prosecutor. I wholeheartedly endorse her re-election. You can learn more about Stamos’ candidacy here.

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 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 these increasingly fast-paced times, Virginia’s 31st Senate District (where I live) needs a state senator who can quickly grasp our rapidly changing economic and technological challenges and champion innovative, new regional and state solutions.

We need a senator free from multiple conflicts of interest to advance solutions that are in our best interests, not some special interest. To develop sound energy and environmental policy that is best for us and fit for the 21st century, we need a senator who is free from entanglements with Dominion Energy. Nicole Merlene will be that senator.

Why Nicole Merlene should be nominated

Arlington is Merlene’s hometown. She’s running for Virginia’s State Senate after several years as a Virginia renter’s rights and transportation advocate. She is an economic development professional who has served as a leader in our community, including as an economic development commissioner, and on the boards of the Arlington County Civic Federation, Rosslyn Business Improvement District, North Rosslyn Civic Association, and a local transportation advisory committee.

Merlene has a detailed policy platform outlining her positions on major issues, including: workforce livability, transportation, protecting our environment, education, healthcare, equality for all, and family.

The issues that Merlene has highlighted during her campaign are the top priorities of the district as evidenced by questions raised in recent debates. We need Merlene’s fresh perspectives and know-how in Richmond.

During the 2019 first quarter, Merlene raised $20,936 from 293 donors, all of whom were individual contributors. Not a single dollar she raised in this reporting period came from a corporation, corporate entity, or corporate PAC. Adding to the grassroots nature of her campaign, Merlene’s average contribution was $71.45, and 92% of her contributions were $100 or less.

Why Barbara Favola should not be nominated

Barbara Favola has a continuing practice of representing clients or donors whose interests can conflict with the public’s interests, most significantly when those clients or donors require action by governmental bodies. For example, Favola has represented the following with major business interests in Arlington, the 31st District, and the Commonwealth of Virginia:

  • Donor, Advanced Towing, seeking to weaken towing regulations while Arlington County was trying to strengthen them.
  • Employer, Marymount University, seeking to aid Marymount in obtaining state grants and local permits.
  • Employer, Virginia Hospital Center, in negotiations about eminent domain and the hospital’s land-use plans, and introducing bills relating to health insurance that Virginia House Democrats opposed.

Even when these and similar entities are not doing business in the 31st District, there is too great a risk that Favola will end up representing those entities’ interests rather than the public interest.

The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has posted a cumulative list of Favola’s top campaign donors since she was first elected to the Virginia State Senate in 2011. A few top donors on that list are:

Favola only announced this year that she wouldn’t accept any more Dominion Energy cash after learning that Merlene wasn’t accepting any.

Conclusion

Merlene has served our community in leadership roles by mobilizing support for local small business permit approvals, organizing community engagement processes, and planning neighborhood transportation patterns. She will be a strong, fair and impartial representative of all 31st District residents.

Favola says she deserves the Democratic nomination because, in over 20 years in elective office, she has compiled a record as a “pragmatic progressive.” But her representation of private clients and her acceptance of large sums of money from top donors with agendas are not the kind of pragmatism voters should continue to reward.

I enthusiastically endorse Merlene as the next Senator for the 31st District of Virginia. You can learn more about Merlene’s candidacy here.

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 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 April 6, the Global Co Lab Network partnered with filmmaker Miriam Gennari to screen her documentary StyrofoamMom.

The event also celebrated the new Teen Eco Action Network, a Global Co Lab Network partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Commons to build a local and global network of teens to address eco action. Amazon landlord JBG Smith provided support.

The event also unveiled the video contest winners from Teens Dream– a Co Lab initiative. Highlights are here .

More than 170 people participated at the new National Landing headquarters in Crystal City. Twenty teen environmental clubs and environmental organizations presented their work. The Teen Network shared plans for addressing plastics, hunger, climate change and waste management. There was an exhibit on EV charging stations.

Building Maintenance Service, JBG Smith, Eco-Action Arlington and Gennari delivered a zero-waste event.

“We must have the courage to lead by example; the time for making excuses has passed,” Gennari said. “I think attendees are encouraged to know kids are interested in sustainability and want to support their efforts.” Sponsoring organizations included Alexandria Toyota, Radley Acura, Crystal City Business Improvement District, and Arlington Independent Media.

Teens point the way to a sustainable Arlington

Perseverance and resolve were messages that resonated most with these teens.

“The plight of a change maker is exhibited through encounters with policy makers and businesses that stood in Miriam Gennari’s way,” said Sydney Rico, an Oakton student of the Plastic Dream Hubs. “The triumphs of various establishments doing something about the issue are put forth creating a meaningful impact on viewers.”

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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. 

Last week, the County Board adopted its FY2020 budget. The County Board approved a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax rate, effective January 1, 2019. The Board earmarked 1.5 cents of that tax rate increase for Arlington Public Schools (APS).

APS long-range operating budget remains unsustainable without significant tax rate increases

By designating 75% of the projected tax rate increase proceeds to APS, even though APS is only entitled to 47% of locally generated tax revenues under its revenue sharing agreement with the County, the County Board simultaneously:

  • enabled APS this year to avoid the most painful cuts to important programs APS said it would have to make without those newly designated funds, but
  • did nothing to address the fact that APS’ operating budget is unsustainable over the next ten years without significant further tax rate increases throughout the decade

Why the County Board said APS should get such a large percentage of the new tax revenue

Here’s what the County Board said:

“The Manager had proposed a tax rate increase of one-and-a-half cents (including one cent to Arlington Public Schools to address the cost associated with opening new schools, including Alice West Fleet Elementary School, Dorothy Hamm Middle School, and The Heights Building), when he presented his proposed FY 2020 budget to the Board in February. The Board added another 0.5 cents to increase funding for Arlington Public Schools.”

“The Board closed the funding gap in the Arlington Public Schools by adopting a 1.5 cent tax rate dedicated to APS, and allocating an additional $0.6 million in one-time funding.”

Why this isn’t a “one-time” situation

APS currently projects that school enrollment will increase 24.6% over the next decade.

Last year, the APS Advisory Council on School Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) prepared an excellent report on future school facilities’ needs. That report was prepared prior to the latest APS enrollment projections. But, even without the benefit of those new projections, the FAC report systematically and correctly documents that APS continuously is going to be opening new schools throughout the next decade and beyond to educate this large body of new students.

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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.

Last week, ARLnow.com reported on a flood warning from Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES).

A DES stormwater outreach specialist alerted Arlington residents how stormwater runoff can harm County waterways:

  • Erosion: High water volume erodes stream banks, compromising trails and trees along our stream-valley parks
  • Pollutants: Stormwater washes pollutants like nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), sediment, bacteria, pet waste and trash into our streams, causing poor water quality
  • Temperature: During the summer months, stormwater heats up as it flows over hot pavement, which then increases the temperature of the stream water by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit, causing stress or death to aquatic organisms

Last week’s story linked to a County website containing useful recommendations to help Arlington residents prepare for more storms and flooding.

Arlington County government needs to follow its own advice.

Arlington talks the talk about global climate change, but fails to walk the walk locally

Arlington County government has passed a climate change resolution criticizing President Trump for withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Change Agreement:

“Arlington County supports the principles of the Paris Agreement and will continue to stand with cities, counties and other public and private sector partners throughout the world to advance action in accordance with the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement.”

But having fired this rhetorical salvo, County government has failed to follow it up locally–choosing not to exercise its municipal powers to take corrective actions that would reduce growing environmental threats in Arlington:

Slow the dramatic increase in impervious surfaces

Arlington’s Flood Frequency Analysis for Four Mile Run at USGS Gaging Station 1652500 has not been updated since 2004. But even 15 years ago, this analysis concluded (at p. 17):

“[H]ow urbanized a watershed is or how developed a watershed is can be characterized by the degree of imperviousness found in the watershed…. [A] more urbanized watershed will have a greater percentage of area covered by impervious structures, i.e., roadways, rooftops, sidewalks, parking lots, etc. The effects of these impervious areas create higher peak flows and lower base flows in the watershed tributaries. These effects are most evident in the higher frequency rain/flood events….”

Flooding is exacerbated by the conversion of previously permeable surfaces into impervious and semi-pervious surfaces. Last year, Arlington County staff reported that 45% of Arlington is now covered by impervious surfaces.

From 2001 to around 2014 (a 13-year period), Arlington increased impervious surfaces by 2%. From 2014 to 2018, Arlington increased impervious surfaces by 3% in just 4 short years.

Arlington’s development activity is now adding nearly 9 acres of impervious surface area per year–adding the equivalent of the Pentagon’s footprint (roughly 29 acres) every 3 to 4 years.

Move more aggressively to protect our mature tree canopy

Mature trees provide significant stormwater volume- and rate-control benefits through soil storage, interception, and evapotranspiration. A tree with a 25-foot diameter canopy and its associated soil can manage 1-inch of rainfall flowing from 2,400 square feet of impervious surface.

Interception and evapotranspiration also decrease runoff volume, with larger trees providing exponentially greater benefit than smaller trees. See more details here and here.

Update Arlington’s Stormwater Master Plan

Arlington’s 2014 Stormwater Master Plan must be updated and refocused to address these threats:

  • Global climate change
  • Rapid local overdevelopment

Severe rainstorms are now much more common. To adapt, Arlington should enact a plan similar to Westchester County’s (NY) Flooding and Land Use Planning guide. See more details here.

Conclusion

In a recent press release, County government proclaimed, “Every day is Earth Day in Arlington.” It also stated that “few communities can boast Arlington’s ceaseless commitment to sustainability.” Sadly, “Every day is New Pavement Day in Arlington” is a rival slogan with too many County government adherents.

Arlington County government must now take action:

  • Slow the rate of increase in impervious surfaces
  • Preserve and increase our mature tree canopy
  • Reduce and better control stormwater runoff

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 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 September 2018, the County Board appointed a new 15-member task force. The Board charged the task force with developing a Master Plan for a 7.6-acre parcel of County-owned land located at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive.

This parcel is often referred to as the Salt Dome site.

Why the new task force?

The Board’s goal was to avert a third consecutive fiasco related to this site.

The first fiasco involved the failure by County staff to justify shifting the location of Fire Station 8 to this site. The second fiasco involved the failure by County staff to provide enough notice that the old salt storage unit previously located on this site was in imminent danger of collapse.

The new task force submitted its final report to the County Board on April 12. Most other critical documents relating to this task force’s work can be accessed here.

Due to skillful leadership, the task force achieved a remarkable degree of consensus.

After 5 months, multiple meetings, and hundreds of hours of hard work, the task force, led by Chair Noah Simon, was able to forge a remarkable degree of consensus regarding the best possible recommendation to the Board given the information available.

As the Sun-Gazette previously reported: “The task force included representation from four adjacent civic associations — Old Dominion, Yorktown, Donaldson Run and Rock Spring — plus representatives from a number of government advisory commissions. Marymount also was represented on the panel, as was St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.”

County staff attempted to make a case that a substantially increased percentage of the acreage on the site should be paved over and devoted to vehicle parking and staging areas to support snow removal equipment (roughly 100 new parking spaces) and the existing leaf storage operations. But when challenged to present operating and other data to justify why it was necessary to expand snow operations, staff failed to provide sufficient data.

Most important lessons learned

The public cares deeply: instead of simply saying NIMBY, most neighbors came together and said essentially, “if in the future you can compile the necessary operating data to make your case, here is our recommended plan for how the site should be re-configured to support those operations.”

Dozens of members of nearby civic associations joined the discussion, providing creative options that included: arranging to park on nearby paved areas; using existing changing facilities nearby, such as Langston; looking at jurisdictions that stopped mulching leaves in an expensive, energy-intensive way; and exploring other systems of loading salt. Others asked why the shift-change facility needed to be co-located with salt storage?

The positions taken by County staff lack supporting data: staff was unable to provide data concerning the number of snow events/year across time, or what volumes/quantities of road salt or brine they distribute. Other jurisdictions, such as Maryland, measure the number of salt/mile of road/inch of snow, work to reduce dependency on salt (vital because of salt’s toxicity), and accordingly demonstrate percentage reductions in salt use annually.

The County should begin to measure all critical aspects of the “problem” to develop meaningful data to drive management decisions. The County should develop similar metrics for the leaf collection and mulching process. How much is “free” mulch costing its residents?

Conclusion

In our rapidly developing County, proposed changes in the uses of land all come with direct and opportunity costs and must be justified by data that backs up proposed changes.

Despite this site being on a precipitous hill, at the edge of a Resource Protection Area, and at the trailhead of Donaldson Run, County staff too often talk about massive soil disturbance as though it comes at no cost — even in the face of tree removal and other proven environmental damage.

County staff is too narrowly focused on short-term construction of facilities without considering medium- and long-term impacts on erosion, water quality, air quality, flooding, or mitigation of climate change. The County is being paved over at an unsustainable rate, and flooding is a severe problem. Shared use of existing paved areas needs to be a priority.

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 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 April 1, ARLnow.com reported that the APS 1:1 program “gets high marks from students, but remains polarizing for parents.”

The most up-voted comment to that story cuts to the chase:

“Wow what a surprise, students were for free ipads and laptops, and the parents are wondering if the real estate tax hikes are worth it.” – Black Metal list Krieg

APS staff has been unable to explain how much APS spends annually on the 1:1 elementary iPad program.

On April 2, APS School Board members held a revealing work session with their staff on a variety of budget issues. The discussion of the 1:1 program starts at 3:03:54 and lasts 30 minutes.

On social media, one astute parent accurately summarized the bottom-line conclusion:

“We really don’t know what 1:1 costs us. We have a complex leasing model for these devices, and the tech budget includes more than 1:1. If you drop 1:1 the state still requires a certain ratio of access to devices for testing purposes… They are not saying it, but of course 1:1 has additional costs in terms of staffing and electronic resources that you also save if you drop it… Device budget is somewhere around $4 million a year just for devices, but that does not include staff or subscriptions to e-content…”

But this work session revealed one relevant ball-park number. When APS decided to begin the program in 2nd grade instead of 1st grade, dropping that one year produced a savings of at least $1.1 million.

More studies, analyses, or surveys will not provide significantly more relevant information.

The APS Assistant Superintendent of Instruction is now telling the community that the latest (overly-narrow) evaluation of the 1:1 program will drag on until at least the Fall of 2019. This is simply unacceptable at a time in which APS’s long-term operating budget is unsustainable and the APS Superintendent is suggesting class size increases or cutting much more worthwhile programs like the Outdoor Lab just to balance this year’s operating budget.

The community has been engaging APS in meetings about this program for over five years asking the hard questions. Concerns over elementary school opportunity costs have already prompted a petition asking for low-screen-time options.

Survey results show that half of the class time is spent on devices (40% ES, 53% MS, and 58% HS). The time has come to pull the plug on 1:1 in the elementary grades and go to a shared device model. This will allow access required by the state for testing and allow our youngest learners less screen time. It will give teachers the flexibility to be less tied to the APS Central Office and have more face-to-face instructional interaction with their students. The community has spoken for maintaining the Outdoor Lab. Over time, fewer devices will mean fewer cuts in higher quality experiential activities for children like the Outdoor Lab.

The latest evidence of the health, safety, questionable educational effectiveness, and childhood developmental risks of these devices is disturbing.

We are bombarded almost weekly with mounting evidence that the more time children spend using electronic devices, the greater the risk of physical, psychological, and developmental harm.

A 2015 study reviewing school IT programs in over 36 countries worldwide (not in the United States) concluded that less is better when it comes to using technology, both for reading scores and particularly for math scores.

The health and developmental effects on young children of the current 1:1 elementary iPad program won’t be any clearer 6 months from now, 1 year from now, or 2 years from now.

A report published along with the first phase of APS’s overly narrow 1:1 evaluation was not written by a medical doctor but by a Ph.D. who sells consulting services.  We do not need more consulting on this subject.

Conclusion

Now is the time for the Arlington School Board to lead:

  • vote to phase out the 1:1 iPad program in the elementary grades
  • shift to a shared device approach
  • stop kicking the can down the road for even more studies, analyses, or surveys

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 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.

Arlington needs to replace its World War II-era water mains faster than it’s replacing them. A sampling of what’s been happening:

Crystal City

On March 27, ARLnow.com reported that “hundreds — and perhaps even thousands — of water customers in Crystal City are without water service this morning:

“Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services (DES) says it is currently performing emergency water main repairs following a series of at least three water main breaks… ‘Several buildings’ are without water, the Crystal City Business Improvement District said via social media.”

Is this really the way to welcome Amazon?

Virginia Square

As ARLnow reported March 21, a significant water main break on Kirkwood Road between Washington Boulevard and 14th Street N. left “GMU, Others High And Dry.” Video posted of the scene and linked in the ARLnow story “shows a large hole in the roadway filled with roiling, cloudy water.”

Columbia Pike

On August 30, 2018, ARLnow reported that “South Arlington Water Main Breaks Cut Off Service for Thousands Overnight”:

“The problems started … when [DES] received word of pipe problems near the intersection of Columbia Pike and S. Frederick Street…. By 10 p.m., they reported several other water main breaks along the pike … and determined that the S. Park Drive problem was “related” to the previous breaks.”

In a tweet about the Columbia Pike breaks, DES attempted to explain by saying:

It’s not as if the County Government hasn’t seen this coming for many, many years.

Winter 2017-2018

In January 2018, ARLnow reported that “County Crews Have Repaired Dozens of Water Main Breaks Since Mid-December.” At that time, DES pointed the finger at freezing temperatures: “When ground temperatures drop to the water main depth, the pipe material gets cold, but the water temp drops at a slower rate due to its movement…”

May 2016

ARLnow reported that DES was boasting that it had fixed “217 water main breaks in the past year.”

January 2014

ARLnow posted another story about water main breaks. That story highlighted the fact that “Arlington has 500 miles of water mains, 60 percent of which are 55 years or older,” with the oldest dating to 1927.

A county video accompanying the January 2014 story struck an ironic tone. That video proceeded from the flawed premise that water main breaks are always “unavoidable.” The video’s message: learn to live with them. The video explains why old water mains break. Surprise: it’s because they’re old and decaying!

Conclusion

While freezing weather was the proximate cause of many of these water main breaks, many other mains broke because they were just too old.

Arlington County needs a more aggressive program of proactive water main replacement, not the Que Será, Será attitude displayed in the 2014 County video and cemented by the inadequate amount of money County Government currently devotes to proactive replacement.

Meanwhile, the County Government is devoting too many resources to projects like the new $70+ million Aquatics Center and its new state of the art AV system.

A comprehensive recent water main study accurately captures the situation we face:

“[W]ater-main failure rates generally increase exponentially over time… . One could envision a rapid increase in break rates in the future… If a break rate doubles, the economic impact is significant; one would need to double the number [of] personnel repairing the breaks.”

The County Government should prepare and share for discussion with the community a Life Cycle Replacement Cost analysis of Arlington’s water mains as recommended by Dr. Sunil Sinha, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the Sustainable Water Infrastructure Management (SWIM) Center at Virginia Tech:

“[T]o meet the important challenges of the 21st century, a new paradigm for the planning, design, construction, and management of water pipeline infrastructure is required.”

Bottom line: replace more of ’em before they break.

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 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 an earlier column, I discussed an ARLnow.com story quoting County Board members on why Arlington should up-zone major portions of the County to improve housing affordability. (Up-zoning = approving more dense development than permitted by current zoning.)

That column sparked many comments regarding whether up-zoning will have the beneficial effect on housing costs these Board members expect.
A small sampling:

  • S. Sundburg:A 2018 Federal Reserve report, highlighted by Forbes, suggests that housing will be much the same: ‘The implication of this finding is that even if a city were able to ease some supply constraints to achieve a marginal increase in its housing stock, the city will not experience a meaningful reduction in rental burdens’. Add 5% more housing to the most expensive neighborhoods and the rents would drop only by 0.5% and the underlying Fed report can be found here.
  • UrbanNotSuburban:Math. If land values go up 20%, say, but the number of units per acre triples, then the land value PER UNIT declines. It would only go up if land prices tripled, but that doesn’t happen…. The driver is jobs and demand for housing created by those jobs, not density….
  • Dave Schutz:One of the problems we are having … is different specifications of ‘here’. If ‘here’ is Arlington all by itself, we are in a world of hurt, and trampling on the settled expectations of folks who bought in single-family neighborhoods is pretty compelling. If ‘here’ is the DMV, then lots of things are more feasible, because there’re a lot more less expensive building sites.

Like many other jurisdictions, Arlington should deploy tools to measure the fiscal impacts of development

Faced with conflicting arguments about the potential fiscal impacts of major new development projects, or major new policies like large-scale up-zoning, other jurisdictions already are far ahead of Arlington in facilitating an understanding of what those fiscal impacts will be.

Prospective project-specific fiscal impact analyses

Project-specific, prospective fiscal impact statements for each special exception, site plan project were recommended by Arlington’s Community Facilities Study Group in 2015. Such statements would be helpful because they would inject vital, new input into the County’s planning and budgeting. But Arlington’s County Manager and County Attorney have strenuously resisted such analyses for years. They continue to be unwilling to candidly and transparently share their detailed reasoning with the community.

By contrast, most of our Northern Virginia neighbors have been using these tools for years. Examples include the City of Falls Church, Stafford County, and Loudoun County.

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