By Alice Hogan
For the past few years, there have been ongoing, serious problems with property management, resident services, and health and safety at the Serrano Apartments on Columbia Pike, which finally came to the public eye this spring.
We are witnessing the real-world consequences of poor management and poor accountability with the Serrano case. At stake are the well-being of our neighbors, the public perception of the county as it responds, the reputation of the Serrano owner, and, indeed, the community’s support of Arlington’s affordable housing programming.
My hope is that this situation will not adversely impact our county’s response to the growing need for housing that is affordable for low/medium-wage earners, seniors and residents with disabilities. The data show many Arlingtonians are in desperate need of affordable housing options.
- How can we use the Serrano experience as an opportunity to improve owner management and property maintenance?
Property maintenance is the responsibility of building owners and their management staff, not the county, which is one of the lenders. However, the county has an interest in living conditions being adequate and appropriate at every property that receives any type of county funding. Indeed, it has a moral and fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are well invested so that all CAF residents are living in safe and decent housing.
The 2013 purchase of the Serrano was atypical because the financing package did not include federal tax credits to which substantial oversight and reporting requirements are attached and its acquisition did not budget for an immediate rehabilitation, leaving the property vulnerable to many of the problems that have emerged in the interim.
In the wake of the Serrano fiasco, county housing staff is conducting a capital needs assessment of its entire CAF portfolio to provide recommendations for major maintenance projects at the many aging properties that house our 8,000+ CAFs.
The county can also protect its affordable housing investments by requiring all future CAF purchase agreements to include adequate budgeting for anticipated building needs, regardless of funding sources. Furthermore, to protect our investments and ensure decent housing, all county affordable housing loans should require annual, third-party inspections for public review of the physical property and financial performance of CAFs.
- What can we learn from the Serrano tenants’ experience that can strengthen county oversight of Arlington’s growing portfolio of Committed Affordable Units?
Does Arlington’s growing affordable housing program have sufficient and appropriate staff? Currently, the responsibility for overseeing Arlington’s housing programs is dispersed among several government departments, including Housing, Planning and Human Services. Since housing affordability is a priority for the County Board, should this collaboration be streamlined into a single Housing Team that reports to the County Manager? And/or should certain oversight tasks be contracted out to specialized consultants? The county might benefit from studying how comparable jurisdictions operate their housing programs.
- How do we ensure the burden doesn’t fall on tenants to advocate for the services they expect and are paying for?
At the Serrano, regular work sessions with participation from the County Board and staff, residents, advocates and Serrano owner and management representatives, should continue until property issues are resolved.
The county should also assess the organizational governance of its affordable housing partners to determine how they listen to tenants’ voices. It should ensure our partners effectively take tenants’ needs and concerns into account when conducting business and delivering services through annual and public tenant satisfaction surveys at each CAF property.
Let’s ask these and more questions, listen carefully and move forward, using the lessons learned from the Serrano crisis, to make Arlington’s affordable housing program as efficient, accountable and resident-centered as possible.
Alice Hogan holds a Master’s in Social Work, with a focus on affordable housing and social justice and is a member of Arlington’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Housing. She is a native Arlingtonian who resides in Westover with her husband and their two teenagers.
By Nancy White
Despite Arlington’s prosperity, not everyone is thriving.
Tremendous health disparities exist in our community as evidenced by data showing a 10-year difference in life expectancy between neighboring census tracts. And more than six percent of Arlington residents — about 11,000 — have no access to health insurance due to immigration status or incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford subsidized Obamacare plans.
How does an organization effectively address health disparities in a community? Health disparities are variations in the rates of disease between groups of people, often because of factors such as race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and access to nutritious food and safe, affordable housing.
For 27 years, Arlington Free Clinic (AFC) has had a clear mission of providing free, comprehensive healthcare to low-income, uninsured Arlington adults through the generosity of volunteers and donors. As we emerge from the pandemic and consider our new-normal, I’ve given thought to what has made AFC successful and how our strategic focus will help us continue.
Disciplined focus on mission: Providing healthcare is what we do best, and this focus has allowed the organization to resist the seduction of funding opportunities that would take us off-mission or duplicate services already available.
We considered but said no to opportunities including:
- Medicaid Funding. When Virginia expanded Medicaid in 2019, AFC had an option to become a provider for low-income, Medicaid recipients. After much communication with health safety net partners, county leaders and AFC board members, we decided to refer our Medicaid-eligible patients to local providers and open our doors to accept even more patients who had no options for insurance.
- Social Services. Today, significant funding is available to address “upstream” causes of poor health like homelessness, unemployment and food insecurity. Instead of shifting to provide these services onsite, we’ve opted for a case manager to refer patients to our community partners who are experts in these areas.
We debated and ultimately said yes to others:
- Dental. When a donor shared her dream of funding a dental clinic to honor her father who died of a dental infection he couldn’t afford to treat, AFC carefully considered the need for dental care and the impact on the clinic. After a year-long pilot program in county-donated space and many discussions with AFC board, staff and community partners helped us move forward. This program matched our mission and met community needs because of the important link between oral health and overall health, and because community dental care was inaccessible to our low-income patients.
- Advocacy. As healthcare providers, we are aware of the community conditions impacting our patients’ health. This has given us confidence to be at the table as their advocate for issues ranging from improved digital broadband to easier access to groceries during the pandemic.
By Gabe and Dolores Rubalcava
The editors of Progressive Voice recently talked with long-time Arlington residents Gabe and Dolores Rubalcava to hear their opinions on how Arlington has changed over the past decades, and what strategic decisions are most important now for county decision-makers.
PV: As an Army family, you moved to Arlington from Ft. Hood, Texas in 1991. Since then, you’ve both worked and raised a family, with all four children now college graduates in their careers. Over time, what have you seen as the most significant changes in Arlington?
Dolores: All the development has been the biggest change. When we first drove up, I thought, “No way this is close to Washington D.C.”…this was a cute little sleepy town…there were one-story houses in Ballston…the miniature golf course there had just been taken down.
Gabe: I was working at the Pentagon and a friend had told us to “find a house inside the Beltway” if we could [to avoid a long commute], so we squeezed ourselves into a smaller place close to Carlin Springs, even though we paid more than we would have farther away. Then later we moved [to the Bluemont area] to a bigger house.
Demographics have changed. When we got here, there were a lot of Vietnamese, Salvadorans. We were one of the few Mexican families. When the Vietnamese got more money they moved to Fairfax. Now we’re seeing Eritreans, lots of Mongolians.
PV: What county decisions and trends have concerned you or pleased you?
Dolores: The development has attracted new people, visitors . . . on the flip side, I wish the south side would get better. For one, the streetcar on Columbia Pike being nixed was so sad. Businesses were looking forward to it, restaurants were so hyped up about it.
Gabe: So instead of the streetcar, people were talking about what buses could do. But . . . that hasn’t happened. In the end, what did we get? Nada. So that was a promise not kept.
PV: How do you think Arlington County should change moving forward?
Gabe: Today it seems in Arlington we have people ’til they are about 30-35 years old, then they move out, whether because of children, or need a bigger house. So a big question is: what could Arlington do to keep people after that point? And then there are older people like us. I want to stay here until we kick off.
PV: What are your ideas to address such needs?
Gabe: On housing, we have to get more creative with solutions. What does it take to change the dynamic? Like recently they approved an apartment building with 228 apartments, and of those, you know how many committed affordable housing units? 12! Just one was set aside for [people with] disabilities! It’s well within our power to fix that. We’re a county with a $1 billion budget.
The county makes decisions on land use. Let the market decide the price point. But, do we want people to stay in Arlington? Let’s look at the duplex idea, other housing ideas so more people could stay here when they want to start families. Most of all, do not be afraid to try something. Sometimes we overthink solutions until we are overcome by events, or we fail to take advantage of the committee recommendation . . . we really do have an educated populace — let’s take advantage of it!
Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.
By Anne deLeon and Mary Byrne
Last year, Americans were inundated with millions of political calls. Texting technologies added to the deluge: 2.72 billion political text messages were sent in September 2020 alone. Voters like long-time Arlington resident Donna Bierlein were drained by the onslaught, “It’s annoying to get called over and over again.”
Yet, the Arlington Democrats’ effort to get out the vote has been successful because it relies not just on calls to solicit support, but on building genuine connections with voters. Last year, our volunteers found a new way to be of service.
The Rides to the Polls team has provided transportation assistance to voters since 2008. Our group expected the emergence of Covid-19 and the intensities of the presidential election would impact our operation in 2020. Voting became more complicated, leaving seniors unsure about their voting options.
Seeking to correct our state’s reputation for being a difficult place to vote, the Virginia General Assembly passed bills to make it easier. Drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots were approved, funding for postage for mail-in ballots was provided and rules for becoming a permanent absentee voter were eased. Because of Covid-19, the witness requirement for absentee ballots was waived.
To help voters absorb the changes, our team decided to reach as many people as possible in advance of the election. Volunteers made thousands of calls, answering questions about voting rules, providing assistance with online ballot applications and offering rides.
As coronavirus vaccines became available in January 2021, we saw a similar need among seniors. Why not turn our Rides to the Polls operation into a Rides to Vaccines program?
More than 90 volunteers joined up — twice the number who usually volunteer for the Rides to the Polls effort. Our newcomers ranged from college students to 80-year-olds and included Democrats as well as Republicans.
For five months our tireless volunteers called more than 4,000 seniors, regardless of political party, helping with online vaccine registration as well as scheduling and driving to appointments. By the time our program wrapped up in June, our outreach expanded to non-English speakers. Victoria Virasingh reached out to Spanish-speaking neighbors, organizing information drops at homes and setting up registration tables at markets. Another volunteer organized and paid for rides for those needing disability-adapted transportation. Mesky Bhrane helped Amharic speakers, collecting multiple blessings along the way.
Seniors were reassured by our safety protocols, which included mask requirements for drivers and passengers, surface-cleaning between rides and open windows during travel. Our volunteers built trust, checking in before and after appointments and offering their personal phone numbers for follow-up calls. Colleen Boles had multiple conversations with more than one vaccine-hesitant resident, providing the information and support they needed to become comfortable making an appointment.
Our project succeeded because it was rooted in connection and concern. We concentrated on those who “fell between the cracks,” helping those who lacked computer access, were confused about conflicting information provided by the media or needed safe transportation. Some seniors expressed surprise to know a neighbor cared enough to find and call them. Turney Tse said, had we not called, her 100-year-old mother would not have been vaccinated.
Retired California Congressman Vic Fazio, who now lives in Arlington, also appreciated the call. “I thought it was a great effort showing empathy, interest and concern.” Fazio suggested the impact of efforts like ours might have lasting impact. People learn “there’s more to a political party than platform and issues,” when people feel “recognized, noticed, cared for.”
If pivoting a small but effective effort like the Arlington Democrats’ Rides to the Polls program toward non-political community service can build goodwill in times of crisis, why not apply the model more broadly in normal times? “In a period when cynicism reigns and people are mistrustful,” DeFazio says, outreach rooted in common interest, concern for the individual and care for community can be key to engaging people one by one, neighbor to neighbor.
Long-time Arlington residents Anne deLeon and Mary Byrne are both former Capitol Hill staffers. They lead the Arlington, Va. Democrats’ Rides to the Polls team, which has provided transportation assistance to voters since 2008.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Keith Willis
Arlington County residents can be proud of our world class public services and of living in a county that values government’s role in making our county a great place to live. In July the Arlington County Board will have the opportunity to make our county services even better by giving our county employees a real voice on the job.
The County Board will consider a proposal allowing county employees to engage in collective bargaining, presenting an opportunity for employees and management to negotiate on things such as wages, benefits, and working conditions.
When public employees, including first responders and county employees, have a union contract, it can improve public services by reducing employee turnover and giving workers a voice in areas such as cost savings and efficiencies. As a county employee said last month before the County Board, county workers want to “offer our expert opinions on our workplace concerns.”
For Virginia, collective bargaining could help alleviate wage disparities that public employees have with their private sector counterparts, while also addressing racial and gender pay equity problems. In our community, unionized county employees could also raise wages for all workers by setting a standard for fair and equitable pay.
Over the past year, county workers have been setting the stage by joining unions and engaging in discussions with county management about what a collective bargaining ordinance could look like. Last month, the County Manager submitted his proposal to the County Board. While this proposal is strong in many respects, I believe it could be improved in three key areas.
- The new ordinance should be broadly inclusive to maximize the number of County employees that can join their unions. Obviously, there is a group of managers and supervisors that cannot be part of the union but including lead workers such as fire station Battalion Chiefs would expand access to the benefits of collective bargaining to more employees.
- The County Manager should lay out a policy of management neutrality. To be clear, I’m not implying the county has engaged in the anti-union activity we see from corporations like Amazon and Walmart. Furthermore, the County Manager has expressed the County management team’s neutrality on county employee organizing. However, I believe he could go further by ordering managers to allow employees the freedom to organize their unions without any management involvement or interference.
- The County Manager has opposed allowing disciplinary actions to be a subject of negotiation. A fundamental part of a union contract is a formalized procedure in which employees have a clear and fair process for addressing grievances that balances the power between workers and management. Leaving this core element out would be a glaring omission in the collective bargaining agreements made possible by the proposal.
As for APS employees, School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen noted that “staff compensation and a plan for collective bargaining will be key areas of focus for us this coming school year. It is vital that we ensure that all staff are fairly and consistently rewarded for their great work.” The School Board is a separate governing body with oversight and management of our public school system’s approximately 6,794 full-time, part-time and hourly employees.
As a 30-year Arlington resident, I’m thrilled our County Board is leading the way on labor issues in our state. Arlington County workers had union contracts until 1977, when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Arlington needed permission from the state legislature to enter into a collective bargaining arrangement. In 1993, the legislature reinforced this ruling by passing legislation banning the practice altogether.
This ban put us at odds with the United Nations, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Catholic Church and an array of organizations across the world that recognize collective bargaining as a human right. In 2019, the Virginia legislature overturned this ban and left it up to local governments as to whether their employees could unionize and engage in collective bargaining
I’m hopeful that the ultimate ordinance passed by the County Board will be a robust progressive bill that reflects our community values and shows that we value the voices of our county workers.
Keith Willis is a union organizer, former SEIU member, and chair of the Arlington Democrats’ Labor Caucus.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Rev. Jonathan Linman
I moved to Arlington a year ago after 18 years in the concrete jungle of New York City where the only contact I had with nature in my apartment was a view of a mimosa tree from my fifth-floor kitchen window. Thus, I now relish my occasions outdoors at my Arlington home where I spend all the time I can on my porch, deck or brick patio in the yard.
While we live amidst the fifth largest metropolitan area in the nation, nature is all around us — the cacophony of the once-every-17-years cicadas noisily asserted nature’s presence this year. Our suburban context cannot ultimately overshadow nature’s claims on us. Yet our species tries to “fill the earth and subdue it” as the mythic creation account in Genesis in the Bible puts it. Our stewardship of mother earth has been anything but exemplary.
I notice this in subtle ways, like the scarcity of fireflies on summer nights, a foreboding sign of the collapse of many insect populations due to human practices. I also notice, in not-so-subtle ways, the human effects of seeking to control the natural world.
On April 30, an army of workers descended on our usually quiet neighborhood wielding lawnmowers, weed whackers, leaf blowers and chainsaws, all in the name of imposing “order.” The irony of this intrusive, un-natural cacophony was that it occurred on National Arbor Day, a day dedicated to planting and caring for trees, not cutting them down!
The point of these musings? We as a species are beckoned to promote environmental justice right here at home in Arlington.
The congregation I serve as pastor has worshiped outdoors for several months because of the coronavirus. This has been a silver lining amidst the overbearing clouds of our pandemic-induced truncated routines. The songs of the birds accompany our communal singing. Even the cicadas offered their strange sounds to the proceedings, enhancing our connection with nature.
Outdoor worship forces us to admit in humility that we are subservient to nature’s elements with weather — too hot or cold or wet — that we cannot control. All of this is an exhortation for our congregation to get serious about working for environmental justice.
One such effort that seeks to be environmentally friendly and to serve human need is our community garden, our “Plot Against Hunger.” Our garden is lovingly nurtured by our volunteer gardeners who practice sustainable agriculture in microcosm to raise wholesome, healthy produce to benefit the hungry and food insecure in our community.
But there is more to be done. As we anticipate a return soon to congregational programming as the pandemic subsides, our congregation’s leaders will begin to discern ways we can practically promote environmental justice locally while also adding our voice of advocacy to more global concerns. Our national church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, had the foresight in 1993, before climate change was front-page news, to adopt a social statement: “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice.” This statement will ground and guide our conversations and decision-making.
While I cannot predict our specific course of action, we as a congregation aim to be among many local organizations that add leaven to the loaf to nurture a more sustainable and harmonious blend between humanity and the natural world.
Even in our suburban context, the global struggle between nature and the human species is unavoidable. We cannot escape this conflicted reality even here in our pristine neighborhoods. Thus, I welcome hearing from other organizations who also share a passion for environmental justice. The synergies of partnerships will take us further than if we act alone.
Linman is pastor of the Resurrection Lutheran Church in Arlington’s Westover neighborhood.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Josh Kaplowitz
This middle-aged corporate lawyer, with a family of five and a recently renovated single-family home deep in suburban Arlington, is here to tell you that my neighborhood — and probably yours — needs more housing and density.
This issue landed at our doorstep recently when Arlington County presented scenarios that might allow roughly 5-to-7 story mixed-use development along my stretch of Lee Highway (which is likely to soon be renamed the more friendly Langston Boulevard) and smaller multi-family dwellings, including duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses, on the surrounding blocks.
I believe it will make my street just off Lee Highway — and all of the County — a better place to live. And I call on my friends and neighbors to consider what we would gain from spreading gentle density across the county, and what we would lose if we acquiesced to the status quo.
Change can be daunting, especially when it affects your home. And I know folks have concerns about the impacts of increased density on parking, traffic, schools, and noise. But in a growing region like ours, change is a constant. We can either decide to manage the change, or we can allow it to overwhelm us in unwanted ways. The Lee Highway Plan and the Missing Middle Housing Study are both examples of how we can thoughtfully manage the change and growth that is already coming to Arlington, while being welcoming to a range of newcomers.
A thoughtful increase in density will benefit our neighborhood in myriad ways. A lively, walkable commercial district would replace the auto-oriented mix of strip malls, parking lots, and gas stations that has remained mostly unchanged since the 1950s.
In exchange for allowing taller buildings, the County can require developers to include public green space, green roofs, and other stormwater mitigations that will mitigate the climate-fueled floods that increasingly inundate the surrounding neighborhoods. More density results in more people, and as density increases, the likelihood of using public transit increases, supporting the case for more rapid bus service along Lee Highway and other corridors. Such amenities could be attractive to an increasingly climate-conscious generation who will — ahem — buy our houses when we age out of them.
A more diverse housing mix, which could include dedicated affordable units, could make our neighborhood and schools, and those across the county, more inclusive, as people of varying incomes might be able to afford to live here — including teachers, police officers, firefighters and small business owners who serve our community. In so doing, we can also begin to undo Arlington’s racist legacy of exclusionary land use policies. And diverse housing options allow more older adults to right-size and age in place.
New market-rate apartments, condos, townhomes, triplexes, and duplexes could still be relatively expensive. Yet maintaining the status quo, where 73% of the residential land in the county is zoned for single-family, is almost guaranteed to result in extremely expensive housing. Arlington is desirable, and its original modest housing stock is quickly being swapped for enormous 6+ bedroom homes that sell for more than $2 million. If we fail to allow more diverse housing, most of Arlington will likely become an enclave for the uber-wealthy.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’.
By Arbora Johnson and Victoria Virasingh
Numerous studies, including one by the Federal Reserve, show that women, especially women of color and immigrant women, have borne the brunt of economic pain during the pandemic.
This “she-cession” is the result of female job loss at a higher rate than that of men, and, simultaneously, the need to care for children not in school. So where does Arlington County stand on childcare assistance and support for working moms with school-age kids?
The plight of working moms is dire, with public K-12 schools completely closed for in-person learning for a full year and open since March for just two short days per week. Childcare for younger children, always expensive and hard to come by in the County, is out of reach for too many households. This is hitting women across Arlington from all socio-economic backgrounds and neighborhoods. It is even becoming a barrier to getting vaccinated.
“Maria” and her husband work minimum wage jobs in the restaurant and cleaning industry, with no work from home option. As restaurants started reopening, her husband picked up shifts — but they were still far behind financially. When cleaning jobs recently came her way, Maria had to make a choice. At the “brink of losing our apartment that we rent and needing money for food,” Maria decided to take the job and leave their young school-aged son at home doing virtual APS classes.
When asked about childcare options, she broke it down: Minimum wage paid $7.25/hour, while the cheapest childcare she can find in Arlington costs $13.00/hour. On May 1, after interviewing Maria, the minimum wage in Virginia rose to $9.50.
Andrea is a mother of two young elementary school age kids who, for the first time since graduating from college, reached the point where holding down her full-time job was no longer workable.
“I want to be working,” she said. “But it became untenable. We have no family nearby and Covid eviscerated the community and the other day-to-day supports that we previously utilized to keep our household functioning.”
Anyone trying to keep elementary schoolers on track in virtual school knows the challenge; those who can afford it hire tutors (which requires space) or make the choice to step back from their jobs.
A single mom of a 1-year-old, Vilma needed help getting to her appointment for the Covid vaccination. With no car and a 1-hour public transit route, she got help from the Rides to the Vaccines team. When she got a text from the woman giving her a ride asking, “Is there a car seat available or can you get childcare for the baby?” Vilma panicked because the answer was “no.”
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Cragg Hines
The past two sessions of the General Assembly have been the most progressive in the more than 400 years that Virginia has had a legislative assembly.
As the House of Delegates and Senate met in 2020 and 2021, they abolished the death penalty; marijuana possession by adults was legalized; voter rights were expanded, including same-day voter registration; and gun-safety laws were strengthened, including background checks for private gun sales. The state minimum wage was increased; conversion therapy for homosexuals as adults was banned; and the age-old problem of racial discrimination based on hair, including its texture and type, was outlawed. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was finally supported — four decades after Congress sent the measure to the states.
These actions were not happenstance, nor were they strokes of luck, and certainly not inevitable. No, each was the result of electoral choices across Virginia that produced partisan swings in the Senate and, especially, in the House of Delegates, albeit narrowly. Democrats today lead the Senate 21-19 and the House of Delegates 55-45.
As each landmark measure was enacted, I took to social media to remind: “Elections matter,” because they do, and elections will matter again this fall as common-sense Democrats defend their hold on the three statewide offices — governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general — and their majority in the House of Delegates.
Similarly, the Democratic edge in the State Senate will be on the line when all 40 members are up in 2023.
Elections matter locally, too. Longtime Republican John Vihstadt, calling himself an independent, first won an Arlington County Board seat in a quirky special election in 2014. But when Democrats focused laser-like in 2018, Vihstadt was swept right back out by a determined Democrat, Matt de Ferranti.
Democrats across the Commonwealth this fall will need a similarly tight focus on the progressive, common-sense nature of their reforms, almost all of which have public support gauging by recent statewide polls. The main task for Democrats is getting their voters to the polls.
None of the common-sense measures that passed in 2020 and 2021 would have been enacted without the legislative elections in 2017 that cut into Republican control of the House of Delegates and the one in 2019 that put Democrats in control of both House and Senate. For the first time in 25 years, Virginia voters produced a Democratic “trifecta” — Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to add to a Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, elected in 2017.
Early in Northam’s term, he proposed election reform, but Republicans with legislative majorities “just dismissed it,” Northam has recalled. When Northam called a special gun-safety session in the summer of 2019, after a mass shooting (13 dead, including the shooter) in Virginia Beach, Republicans dug in their heels and adjourned after only two hours.
Such Republican intransigence was a red-meat talking point for many Democratic legislative challengers in the fall campaign of 2019. It was one of many issues (including the shambolic performance by Donald Trump) that worked to Democratic advantage, especially in the vote-rich Washington suburbs.
There were historic leadership shifts as well. Democrats running the House of Delegates elected the first woman speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax, and the first woman — and first person of color — as majority leader, Charniele Herring of Alexandria. In the Senate, the job of President Pro Tem went to Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, also the first woman and first person of color to hold that post. Yes, elections matter.
Democratic candidates were clear about what a legislative majority would mean, and delivered much of their program.
This year’s elections could continue along a common-sense path, or Republicans, if victorious, could begin to roll it all back. Year after year, and not just in presidential contests, elections matter.
Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Wesley Joe
“I ran [for governor] to get off the school board. That’s the worst job I ever had.”
–Former U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers (D-Arkansas)
A remarkable feature of this year’s Arlington School Board election was the last-minute drive to recruit candidates for the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) endorsement.
More troubling was the absence of more candidacies among our best prepared Arlingtonians — those who have led in unglamorous roles on the school advisory groups, such as Advisory Council on Teaching and Learning, Budget Advisory Council, County Council of PTAs, and Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.
Arlington Public Schools (APS) needs knowledgeable, experienced decision-making and oversight. APS is a complex $670 million per year system that helps to shape the lives of our 28,000, highly varied children. Its services range from preschool to career training to mental health and more. It is one of the county’s largest employers and maintains dozens of substantial physical plants. The leadership problem is even more urgent now, as Arlington seeks to recover learning losses sustained during the pandemic.
Can we do anything to encourage more of our best prepared leaders to join the School Board? To answer this, I asked several people who have served in the roles I identified above.
Some barriers, such as work and family commitments, are well known. As one long-time leader said:
[Beyond regular meetings and work sessions], the work…also includes attending events at their assigned schools, participating in the work of school board citizen committees…[and] thousands of hours informally meeting with and talking to parents and community members. It is more than a full-time job.
Another was more blunt:
“The job has crappy pay, long hours, and huge responsibility.”
We ought to enable Board members to serve full time and pay accordingly.
Nearly all of the long-term community leaders I talked with cited public incivility as a reason — often their top reason — for not running. This predates COVID-19, but the pandemic has only intensified this deterrent. Here, “incivility” means what one person referred to as “a lot of caustic, coarse, uninformed, nasty behavior” and personal attacks on School Board members’ values and character. The public should observe workplace norms with board members.
Another frequently cited concern is the ACDC endorsement’s influence over the general election outcome. ACDC’s endorsement provides a valuable information shortcut to the many general election voters who aren’t involved with the schools. In an overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdiction, the endorsement usually determines who wins the seat. That reality discourages some experienced Arlingtonians from running. ACDC has sound reasons for exercising its right to endorse a candidate. But as a lifelong Democrat, I think Arlington would be better off if independent candidates had a realistic chance of winning local elections.
Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Progressive Voice Editors
Progressive Voice editors recently talked with Miranda Turner and Mary Kadera, candidates for the Democratic endorsement for Arlington School Board. Here are excerpts from their answers to questions that probed their experience, new ideas and understanding of challenges facing the school system.
Disparity in Free and Reduced Lunch populations. Do you believe more efforts need to be made to distribute F/R lunch students more evenly across APS schools? If so, how would you approach this?
Turner: It’s surprising to many people that we have such disparity, with some schools at 83% and others at 2%. The disparity suggests economic segregation and that’s concerning. Historically, communities have tried to deal with this in various ways… that haven’t worked well… such as busing. I live in Green Valley and when low-income and minority kids were bused out of here [in the 1970s] as a way of integrating, that was hard on the community.
The way to approach is… maximize the walk zone around a school [safely] and… then look at the demographics. If there is a way to enhance diversity and bring schools closer to the mean of Arlington, that deserves a hard look. If we can, enhance diversity in a way that doesn’t disrupt school communities, doesn’t raise transportation costs, doesn’t disrupt walkability and still preserves the neighborhood character of schools.
Kadera: Historically, it most often has been students of color and low-income who get bused away from their neighborhood schools, to schools that often have excess capacity. Their neighborhood schools have set up supports to serve needs of those students like food pantries and tutoring programs afterschool. For all those reasons, it strikes me as problematic to propose a “busing and boundaries” solution.
I would concentrate on making every neighborhood school the best it can possibly be, and being sure students have equal access to opportunities and services.
Option schools are another way we can look at balancing demographics. I’d like to see APS double down on making sure all families are aware of options…and figure out ways of doing more intentional outreach to lower-income families and families of color. Read More