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Morning Notes

Arlington Has Some of the Oldest First-Time Mothers Nationwide — A new analysis suggests that the average Arlingtonian mother has her first child at 31, putting the county sixth in the nation in terms of the oldest average age. Falls Church ranks fourth. [New York Times]

School Board Approves Final Reed School Design — After reviewing plans last month, school leaders have signed off on new schematics for an elementary school in Westover. [InsideNova]

Arlington Planetarium Faces Temporary Closure — The facility could be closed for a year or more in 2020-2021, as the school system renovates the Education Center to allow for more high school seats. [InsideNova]

Pentagon City Rescue — Firefighters rescued an injured worker from a rooftop near the 400 block of 11th Street S. The worker suffered non-life threatening injuries. [Twitter]

Pentagon Set to Ban Fitness Trackers — Military and other DoD personnel soon won’t be able to take their Fitbits onto bases or other secure facilities, or even use step-tracking apps or other GPS functions on their phones. [WTOP]

Back to School at Barcroft Elementary — The school welcomed students and teachers back to class Monday (Aug. 7). Barcroft offers a “modified” calendar, reducing the summer break but not eliminating it. [Twitter, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo via wolfkann

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APS Presses Ahead With W-L Renaming Process, Despite Lawsuit

Arlington Public Schools is pushing ahead with the process of renaming Washington-Lee High School, just a few weeks after three current students filed a lawsuit to block the move.

The school system opened up applications last night (Thursday) for anyone looking to serve on the committee charged with finding a new name for the high school. The School Board voted two months ago to effectively strip Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s name from the building, after calls for a change intensified in the wake of last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

The Board will ultimately have the final say on a new name, with a vote planned for sometime in December, but the committee will be tasked with developing recommendations on a new moniker. In addition to Principal Gregg Robertson, APS wants the committee to include:

  • Three parent/family representatives
  • Three teacher/staff representative
  • One student for each grade level
  • One representative from each of the four civic associations closest to the school
  • Four alumni, each representing a different decade for the school’s graduating classes, and who are current residents of Arlington County
  • One representative from the Arlington Historical Society who is not an alumni or parent of a current student
  • A staff liaison and facilitator (both non-voting)

APS noted in the announcement of the new committee that “all applications will be considered and applicants will be selected to provide a balance of diverse members on the committee.”

But even the most well-constructed renaming committee is unlikely to satisfy opponents of the change. Some school alumni have fiercely opposed the renaming proposal ever since it was first introduced, culminating in a lawsuit filed in Arlington County Circuit Court on July 9 asking a judge to reverse the Board’s decision.

The students argue in the suit that the Board “violated its own procedures” during the June 7 meeting when it voted on the change — the Board first voted to change its naming policies for all schools, then immediately proceeded to a vote on the W-L renaming.

The suit singles out then-Chair Barbara Kanninen as the Board member who “led the process of changing the name” of the school, and for tinkering with the agenda to allow for the immediate vote, a move they argue constitutes a “denial of the procedural opportunity to participate in the promised, and required, community involvement.”

The students also claim that the name change will damage their future prospects for college admission or future employment, as “Washington-Lee has an excellent reputation for academic quality, but… some will not recognize the new name.”

Linda Erdos, an APS spokeswoman, declined to comment on the suit, other than to say that the Board and school system believe the renaming decision was “appropriate.”

“Arlington Public Schools will respond in greater detail in the future and in accordance with the court processes,” Erdos told ARLnow.

The Board is hoping to have a new name ready for the school in time for the opening of the 2019-2020 school year next September.

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Design Work for Education Center Renovation Set to Start This Fall

Planning work to guide the transformation of the old Arlington Education Center into space for hundreds of high schoolers now seems set to kick off this fall.

The School Board will get its first look tomorrow night (Thursday) at a proposed “building-level planning committee” for the project, a group of parents, school staffers and civic association members who will help chart out designs for the effort over the next few months.

Arlington Public Schools is set to add at least 600 high school seats at the space, located at 1426 N. Quincy Street, as part of a plan sketched out by the Board last fall to ramp up the capacity of nearby Washington-Lee High School in the coming years. The Education Center was once the school system’s headquarters, but APS staff wrapped up a full move to new office space in Penrose earlier this year.

The school system expects to fully renovate the site, with a projected price tag of about $37 million, which is set to be drawn from a combination of school reserves and a future school bond.

The exact design of the building, however, is still up in the air and will largely be determined by the BLPC and the county’s Public Facilities Review Committee.

The Board will have the final say on the make-up of the BLPC, which is set to include 28 members in all. Board member Nancy Van Doren will serve as the Board’s liaison to the committee.

The planning process for the Education Center is set to wrap up in time for a Board vote on a school design this winter, with approval from the County Board expected sometime in spring 2019. If all goes as planned, construction will start in the summer of 2020 and the building will be ready for students in time for the 2021-2022 school year.

Work on more high school seats at the Arlington Career Center will proceed on a similar timeline, though that effort has proven considerably more controversial among parents living nearby.

The Board is set to review the BLPC’s membership Thursday, then take a final vote on the matter on Aug. 30.

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APS Unveils New Designs for Reed Elementary School

Plans for a new elementary school on the Reed School property in Westover are coming into focus.

The School Board got its first look at new design renderings for the building Tuesday (July 17), which is set to open in time for the 2021 school year and serve at least 725 students in all.

The $55 million project will involve the construction of a four-story structure alongside the existing Reed building, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road, and the renovation of the rest of the old building. Ultimately, the school will have 32 classrooms, 133 parking spaces and several new athletic fields and playgrounds for students.

Wyck Knox, a principal with the design firm VMDO Architects, told the Board that his team is also working to working to make classrooms in the building “adaptable.” Should school leaders ultimately want to open up more common space for group lessons, he says designers are “working really hard to keep columns and pipes out of the walls, so you can take those walls down” if need be.

Knox added that designers envision a fully accessible walkway stretching around the perimeter of the school, and he even plans to include space for an “outdoor classroom” alongside the building’s new fields and playgrounds.

But throughout all of the planning process, Knox stressed that the school’s designers have examined “cost control measures,” considering that the project’s price tag has been a subject of some controversy in the past, and the cost of all school construction in the county is a frequent sore spot for Arlington officials.

Cost estimates for the Reed project remain about $5.5 million higher than the $49.5 million in bond funding the school system secured for the effort. The county and Arlington Public Schools are planning to split the burden for that remaining amount, though designers are still hoping to bring the cost down to the original figure, as the School Board asked this spring.

Ben Burgin, the school system’s assistant director of design and construction, assured the Board that the remaining design work would involve the additional study of costs of things like emergency electrical systems, roofing or site amenities. He ultimately hopes to “deliver a new cost estimate by the fall.

The school system will ultimately need a use permit from the County Board before proceeding with construction, which they’re aiming to request in time for the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting.

But first, the School Board will need to sign off on the updated designs for the school, and will likely do so at its Aug. 2 meeting. The Board was broadly pleased with the newest sketches laid out, though Chair Reid Goldstein did reiterate his interest in seeing costs come down, considering the school system’s construction funding squeeze.

Audrey Clement, a frequent independent candidate for public office who is challenging Board member Barbara Kanninen this fall, wasn’t so optimistic.

“It will force 9- and 10-year-olds to march up three flights of stairs several times a day,” Clement told the Board. “While this scheme furthers APS’ commitment to a more-car diet, it will impose physical hardship on students and drive up costs.”

In related news, The Children’s School, a co-op daycare for the kids of APS employees displaced by the Reed school redevelopment, earned county approval Tuesday to build a new facility at the site of the old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway.

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Morning Notes

Metro Workers’ Union Threatens Strike — The rail service’s largest union could launch a three-day strike, as it continues to tangle with GM Paul Wiedefeld. The union provided no timeline for when the strike might occur, but workers have launched two previous actions in recent weeks. [Washington Post]

School Board Candidate Levels Racism Accusations — Independent Audrey Clement, a frequent candidate for Arlington offices, accused the School Board of using the debate over the renaming of Washington-Lee High School to “dredge up Civil War history to divert attention” from the school system’s other problems. She’s squaring off against incumbent Democrat Barbara Kanninen this fall. [InsideNova]

Arlington Democrats Honor Longtime Activist — The county’s Democratic committee plans to name Herschel Kanter as the “senior Democrat of the year” on Sept. 30. His fellow Democrats say the move was a “no-brainer.” [InsideNova]

Nearby: Alexandria High-Rise Fire Hospitalizes Three — A blaze broke out at a high-rise along the 5000 block of Holmes Run Parkway around 2 a.m. this morning. [WTOP]

Photo via @thelastfc

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Morning Notes

Another Heat Advisory Today — “Heat Advisory again for… Tuesday from noon to 8 p.m. due to the continuous heat. Remember to stay hydrated, limit strenuous outdoor activities, and wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.” [Twitter]

New School Board Chair — At its meeting last night, the Arlington School Board elected Reid Goldstein as chair and Tannia Talento as vice chair for the 2018-2019. [Twitter]

State Department Employee Guilty of Child Porn Production — An Alexandria man who worked for the U.S. State Department in Arlington has pleaded guilty to “producing child pornography, in part by using his work-issued cellphone.” Skydance MacMahon “worked with a woman in Canada to shoot explicit photos and videos of five children inside her home, federal prosecutors say.” [NBC Washington]

Vets Hiking to Arlington National Cemetery — Despite blistering heat, two veterans are hiking 150 miles from the gravesite of legendary Marine Chesty Puller, in Middlesex County, Virginia, to the gravesite of decorated World War II soldier Audie Murphy at Arlington National Cemetery. [WUSA 9]

Arlington Remembers World War I — “Veterans of six U.S. military conflicts were on hand June 28 as the Arlington Historical Society paid homage to county residents who fought, and died, in what was termed – ultimately incorrectly – the war to end all wars.” [InsideNova]

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School Board Signs Off on $631 Million Construction Plan

A new capital spending plan for Arlington’s burgeoning public school system calls for adding more than 4,200 seats through 2027.

The $631 million construction plan includes a new elementary school at the Reed School site and 1,650 new seats for high schoolers split between the Education Center site and the Arlington Career Center.

The Board has spent weeks working to strike a balance between the school system’s increasingly tight finances and its ever-rising enrollment figures, resulting in a new Capital Improvement Plan that left Board members optimistic, yet unsatisfied.

Debate over the plans at Career Center, in particular, dominated the Board’s discussions about the CIP. Parents living near the center, which is located just off Columbia Pike and will someday be home to another 1,050 high school students, raised frequent concerns that APS might not build the same amenities at the site as it has at its three comprehensive high schools.

“With all the pressures on the school system right now, some may say the plan is not perfect today,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “But I believe it’s evolving in the right direction.”

The Board’s tight financial picture meant that it couldn’t quite meet all the parent requests, but members did work to speed up the construction of some features at the site by re-allocating some of the school system’s capital reserve money.

Under the version of the plan approved Thursday, the Career Center will now include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage.

The field and parking garage will be constructed in 2o23 to make those features available to students as more high schoolers move to the site. APS will then simultaneously add an 800-seat expansion and the performing arts section in 2025.

That will address some of the concerns raised by local parents, including some who formed an advocacy group focused on the issue. But they remain wary of how the Board will ultimately decide which students attend the Career Center site high school — members have yet to decide if it will be a “neighborhood” school only for students who live nearby, or a countywide “option” school.

“No child should be zoned to this school described in this proposal,” said Christine Brittle, an organizer with Citizens for Arlington School Equality. “Arlington has never had a choice school of this size.”

Board members stress that such a decision is a long way off, and the county’s financial picture could someday improve and allow APS to add more amenities to the site. There’s broad hope among officials that tax revenues will rebound when it comes time for the next CIP update in 2020.

“When the inputs change, the plan will change,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. “The CIP is a plan, not a promise.”

In the near term, the County Board still needs to sign off on the school system’s CIP as part of its own capital spending process.

County Manager Mark Schwartz has previously warned that the School Board was a bit too ambitious in its ask from the county, though at a work session Tuesday (June 19), he suggested the version of the CIP the Board passed “can work… with a few minor adjustments.”

The County Board is set to pass its CIP by July 14.

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County Allows APS Parking at Buck Property, Though Site’s Future Still Uncertain

Someday, the Buck property in Ballston could be home to a new school, or for other county-owned facilities or offices — but for now, it’ll merely be used for parking for some school employees.

The County Board voted unanimously Saturday (June 16) to allow the school system to use 48 parking spaces at the site for at least the next two years. The School Board approved a similar initiative on May 30, clearing the way for Arlington Public Schools to park its “white fleet” at the site (1425 N. Quincy Street) and free up some space at the county’s Trades Center.

Arlington Public Schools struck a similar deal with the county last month to let some school bus drivers park their personal vehicles at the garage near Barcroft Park, as APS continues to buy more school buses and fill up its parking lots. This latest change would involve moving vans, SUVs and pickup trucks normally used by the school system’s maintenance workers over to the former Buck property, located just across from Washington-Lee High School.

“This is not a long-term vision,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey. “This is our management of a space that was always acquired with the purpose of being a piece of the puzzle in making sure the county can deal with its facility and infrastructure needs… How do we do something in the interim that’s reflective of using that investment wisely?”

The county agreed to shell out $30 million to buy the six-acre parcel back in 2015, and planners have spent months studying potential uses for the site. While officials have long hoped to use it for additional parking, the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission has considered a litany of other options as well, like building new APS office space, an additional 911 call center or even a new school on the property.

Yet County Manager Mark Schwartz revealed in his latest 10-year plan for construction spending that the county won’t have much money to spend on the Buck site. In all, his proposed Capital Improvement Plan calls for just $3 million in spending to make some minor improvements on the property, rather than moving ahead with any major changes.

Accordingly, that means the site will be open for APS parking, in the short term at least. The new lease agreement between the county and the school system will let APS use the site for the next two years, with the potential for six one-year renewals after that.

The move did meet with some community pushback. Some neighbors spoke at the County Board meeting and two different School Board meetings to express concerns about traffic noise at the site, particularly because workers will likely be arriving at the lot quite early — John Chadwick, the school system’s assistant superintendent for facilities and operations, noted Saturday that some employees will be at the parking lot as early as 3:30 a.m.

But Chadwick pledged to work with the community to mitigate any adverse impacts from this new arrangement. Additionally, School Board members stressed at their May 30 meeting that they hope the move is merely temporary, given the property’s potential to house a new school someday.

“Given the pressure on the school system to build new schools, I think there are many people that are hopeful that we’d begin exploring this site… to at least consider for a school,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.

County staff noted Saturday that they’re currently conducting a technical and engineering analysis of the site, and that includes the property’s potential to someday serve as a home for new classroom space. They plan to wrap up that work this winter.

Photo via Google Maps

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School Board Weighs Draining Reserves to Meet Some Parent Demands at Career Center

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) There may be a way to satisfy parent demands for equitable amenities at a new high school program near Columbia Pike — but it comes at a cost.

The School Board is nearing a vote on a new Capital Improvement Plan, which will guide the next 10 years of school construction, and that means time is running out for officials to tinker with plans for the Arlington Career Center. The site will eventually be home to an additional 1,050 high school students, but the Board has yet to settle on just how it will move forward with building on the property.

Parents in the nearby Arlington Heights neighborhood, in particular, have expressed concerns about how many athletic fields and parking options will be available at the Career Center, particularly when compared to the county’s other high schools.

Under the version of the CIP the Board reviewed at its meeting last Thursday (June 7), the school system would build an underground parking lot at the site with a synthetic field on top — but that will only happen in 2026, two years after space for 800 students is set to open up at the Career Center.

For some parents, such a delay seemed worrisome, particularly as students search for open field space for sports. Accordingly, the Board reviewed a plan at a work session Tuesday (June 12) that would ensure the garage and field get built by 2023, pushing off the 800-seat expansion, and simultaneous construction of a performing arts wing, until 2025.

“The community really needs us to define what wrap-around supports we’re going to provide there to make it an equitable experience for high school students,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren.

The plan would also address some of the Board’s funding concerns. Initially, Arlington Public Schools was set to pay for all this construction using bonds, a process that would’ve piled up more debt than school budget minders are usually comfortable with. This revised proposal calls for APS to shell out $24 million from its capital reserve fund to help pay for the Career Center work, cutting down a bit on the school system’s debt load and shifting the reserve money from future elementary and middle school projects.

Board members did express some consternation about drawing down a reserve fund so substantially — Vice Chair Reid Goldstein suggested he had plenty of “heartburn” over the prospect that the Trump administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum could jack up construction costs in the future, meaning those reserves could come in handy down the line. Yet most expressed a willingness to embrace the proposal, all the same.

“I see the tradeoffs,” Van Doren said. “But we need to fund as many seats as possible out of our own pocket right now.”

That’s because the County Board has its own money troubles to worry about, and likely won’t be able to help APS fund additional school construction.

Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management service, noted that the school system’s original CIP proposal calls for about $19 million more in spending than the county is currently expecting to send the school system. The revised school proposal, with its reliance on reserve money, would greatly close that gap, Peterson told the Board.

“It is not a given, as we sit here tonight, that what we vote on as our plan will be fully funded,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We really do have to understand that.”

Yet even this newly retooled plan for the Career Center is unlikely to answer all the concerns of parents living nearby, some of whom have formed an advocacy group to fight for additional amenities at the site, particularly should it someday become a school serving only students living nearby. They’re even mulling legal action should the Board not meet their demands.

The Board is set to sign off on a final version of its CIP at its meeting next Thursday (June 21).

Photo via Google Maps

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Washington-Lee High School to be Renamed

The Arlington School Board has kicked off a process to rename Washington-Lee High School, aiming to settle on a new moniker for the school before the year is out.

The School Board voted unanimously at its meeting last night (June 7) to approve a change to the school system’s approach to naming school buildings. Though the policy will apply to all current and future county schools, it specifically stipulates that the Board should select a new name for Washington-Lee, given Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s legacy fighting for the cause of slavery.

The Board has been considering a name change at the school since last summer, when a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville sparked a national conversation about Confederate symbols and prompted calls in the community to change the name. Yet the Board opted to revise its whole policy around school names, rather than just change Washington-Lee’s moniker specifically.

But with the new policy passed, the Board will now move forward with a three-month long process of finding a new name for W-L, which has borne the same name since it opened in 1925. Board members are set to pick a committee to deliberate on the name in September, and could vote on a change by December.

“Celebrating your school pride should not mean having to wear a shirt like this one that honors a person who may not share your values,” said Board member Monique O’Grady, while holding up a W-L t-shirt. “As we become a more diverse community, we must become more open to the perspectives of many, and how holding onto some elements of our past can have an impact on our future.”

The decision will undoubtedly come as bad news for some W-L alums. A number of graduates from the school have publicly objected to the move, both at Board meetings and in community demonstrations. Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has even spoken out on the issue, in keeping with his defense of other Confederate symbols around the state over the last year or so.

“This implicitly would vilify virtually every southern family from the Civil War, in perpetuity,” said George Dodge, a W-L alum who spoke at the meeting.

But Board members stressed that they also heard frequently from parents interested in seeing the name change, fearing that Arlington Public Schools is sending the wrong message by so prominently honoring a man like Lee.

“If we continue to honor Lee the symbol, we continue to honor a set of values that has nothing to do with what Arlington is today,” Natalie Roy, a parent of APS students, told the Board.

The lone bit of resistance to the policy change came from Vice Chair Reid Goldstein. While he acknowledged that the naming policy needed to be set in stone as APS prepares to open a bevy of new schools across the county, he saw no reason for rushing forward with a process for renaming W-L specifically that he believed wasn’t as precise as it needed to be.

“There is no required timeline for renaming an existing school, and no rationale for why it must be done by the December of [2018],” Goldstein said.

Goldstein made a motion to create a committee to study potential renaming requests and make recommendations to the Board, but he was the only Board member to support it. Even still, he ultimately agreed to let the renaming process move ahead, noting that Lee “had good run in Arlington Public Schools, 93 years, but other heroes will arise.”

Under this new plan, W-L is set to have its new name displayed on all of the school’s facilities and logos by September 2019.

“Our kids need us to show them the path forward in a respectful, thoughtful kind ways that unifies us,” said Board member Nancy Van Doren. “I think we can do that. I think that’s the legacy of both of the gentlemen on that building right now.”

Photo via Google Maps

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Parents Planning Protest, Lobbying Effort to Reverse School Board’s Career Center Plans

A group of parents who could someday send their kids to a new high school program at the Arlington Career Center remain frustrated by the school system’s plans for the site, and they’re planning a new effort to make their voices heard.

Concerned parents, largely hailing from the Arlington Heights neighborhood around Columbia Pike, are banding together to form a new nonprofit called “Citizens for Arlington School Equality.” The organization, which will lobby the School Board to include a broader range of amenities at the school site, is planning to kick off its efforts with a march from Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Board’s meeting tonight (June 7) at the Syphax Education Center (2110 Washington Blvd), with a rally to follow.

The Board has yet to finalize just how it will build 1,050 new high school seats at the Career Center, but it is nearing a consensus on a new Capital Improvement Plan that would dictate how the construction proceeds over the next decade. A final vote on the plan is set for June 21, but the Board seems to be nearing agreement on a proposal to build the seats by 2024. Under the proposal, amenities at the site would include a multi-use gym, a “black box” theater, a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage, all to be added by 2026.

Yet that plan has done little to satisfy some Arlington Heights parents, who are concerned that the Career Center site wouldn’t offer the same features as the county’s other comprehensive high schools. They’re particularly concerned that the Board’s proposed design would fundamentally disadvantage students who live near the Career Center in South Arlington and are most likely to attend the new program.

“I want this for my kids, but I want to make sure I live in a county that cares about the education of all kids equally,” Jennifer Milder, the parent of two students attending Henry right now and one of the new group’s organizers, told ARLnow. “And the needle has moved very little on the inequality spectrum so far. There are still not adequate fields, still not adequate parking, or an adequate gym.”

Board members have spent plenty of time wrestling with how they can beef up amenities at the site, and examined several plans that would’ve added more amenities to the program and sped up their construction so they were available as the facility opened its doors.

But all of those proposals would have put a serious strain on the school system’s finances and were ultimately cast aside. Even the Board’s current plans will strain Arlington Public Schools’ borrowing capacity, and the county’s similarly challenging financial picture means the County Board may not be able to help, either.

Yet Milder and some her fellow parents believe both boards should view fully funding amenities at the Career Center site as a priority important enough to force a re-ordering of the county’s long-term construction plans.

“The county is doing all these things to attract businesses and people to Arlington, then not backing it up by supporting students they’re bringing here,” said Megan Haydasz, another Arlington Heights parent involved with the new group.

Haydasz suggested her new group could even pursue legal action against the school system if the Board opts to pursue its current plans at the Career Center. She’s hoping the new group will be able to start accepting donations soon, and will be able to fund all manner of advocacy work.

“Families with the resources to get their students out of this situation will do so, and that will leave behind families who can’t,” Milder said. “It’d be a sad state of affairs.”

That’s why Milder and Haydasz hope to use their new group to convince the county raise taxes next year — a distinct possibility, County Manager Mark Schwartz has repeatedly warned — and use that money to better fund the school system. If the county fails to do so, the parents worry how the neighborhood might change in response.

“I’ve talked to several people already reconsidering adding onto their houses, or are even thinking about putting their homes up for sale already,” Haydasz said. “The uncertainty is too much for them. They wanted to be in the South Arlington community, but they can’t gamble with their kids.”

The group will begin its march from Henry at 5 p.m., and plans to arrive at the Syphax Center for a rally by 5:15 p.m. The Board meeting starts at 6 p.m.

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School Board Looking for County Help on New Construction, But Funding Squeeze Complicates Debate

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Arlington school leaders believe they’ll need plenty of help from the County Board to build enough schools to keep pace with a rapidly growing student body over the next decade — but the county’s own financial pressures will likely limit just how much it can lend a hand.

The School Board and County Board convened for a joint meeting on Tuesday (May 29) as officials pull together their respective capital improvement plans, documents outlining construction spending over the next 10 years, in order to better coordinate the process.

Though neither board has finalized its CIP, the School Board is a bit farther along in the process and is currently eyeing a roughly $631 million plan for approval. But to make that proposal more viable, the Board told their county counterparts that they’ll need help in a few key areas: finding off-site parking and athletic fields for high schoolers, taking on debt to build new schools and securing more land for school buildings.

“Given the constraints we have, we have to be very creative,” said School Board member Nancy Van Doren. “And we need help.”

While County Board members expressed a willingness to work on those issues, they’re facing their own problems. County Manager Mark Schwartz’s $2.7 billion proposal comes with hefty cuts to some transportation improvements and neighborhood infrastructure projects, as the county grapples with increased funding demands from Metro and a shrinking commercial tax base.

In all, Schwartz is envisioning sending $396 million to Arlington Public Schools for construction projects through 2028, but even that amount might not help the school system meet its planned building needs.

“The amount of money we have in there for schools does not match the amount of money the schools are asking for,” Schwartz said during a Wednesday (May 30) town hall on the CIP. “They’re asking for more.”

In part, that’s because the School Board has been working to find a way to add more space for high school students a bit sooner than they originally anticipated, and add more amenities for those students in the process.

Members have spent the last few weeks wrestling with how to implement a “hybrid” plan the Board approved last summer, avoiding the need for a fourth comprehensive high school by adding seats to the Arlington Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street). They’ve been especially concerned with how to most efficiently add features like athletic fields and performing arts space to the Career Center site, over concerns from parents that building space for high schoolers without those amenities would present an equity issue.

As of now, the Board is nearing agreement on a plan to build out space for a total of 1,050 high schoolers at the Career Center by 2024, complete with a multi-use gym and “black box” theater. APS would add a synthetic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site two years later.

Other, more ambitious options were dubbed “budget busters” by APS staffers, but even this plan is $33 million more expensive than Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s original proposal. It would also force the school system to run afoul of one of its principles of financial management: a pledge to avoid spending more than 10 percent of the annual budget on debt service costs.

Accordingly, Board members were quite interested Tuesday in learning how the county might take on some of that debt, or help APS bring down the costs of that new construction, perhaps by helping the school system find off-site parking instead of building new garages or better coordinating the of sharing county fields.

On the former point, County Board member John Vihstadt expressed a willingness to find out how such a debt collaboration would work. Schwartz, however, was not especially optimistic about the prospect, noting it would require some hard choices on the CIP.

“That would mean taking either a project away on the county side or adjusting the timing of a project on the county side,” Schwartz said.

County Board members were much more willing to try working together on sharing fields, and on helping APS find new school sites. Vice Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out that such promises hardly addressed the “elephant in the room.”

“The way to move us away from getting close to the 10 percent [debt limit] is to raise the budget and that means taxes,” Goldstein said. “You folks have that power and we don’t.”

Schwartz has said he’ll likely call for tax increases in next year’s budget, but such discussions are still a year away. First, both boards need to finalize their CIPs — the School Board is set to do so on June 21 while the County Board’s CIP approval is scheduled for July 14.

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School Board Moves Closer to Renaming W-L High School Under Proposed Policy Change

(Updated at 3:25 p.m.) Washington-Lee High School could see its name changed by the end of the year under the terms of a policy change reviewed by the Arlington School Board Thursday night (May 31).

The Board has been mulling the possibility of stripping Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name from the school ever since last summer’s violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville sparked a national conversation about Confederate symbols, but members asked school system staff to develop a more detailed policy framework to guide the naming of all buildings first.

Arlington Public Schools officials delivered that proposed change to the Board last night, and members are now set to take action on it by this coming Thursday (June 7).

“We said we’d seek to adopt naming criteria that reflect our values and allow us to judge every potential school name with objectivity,” said School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “We have kept these promises… and we’re in a good place. I really like what you’ve brought us. I think it’s going to be a model as other school communities grapple with this issue.”

The new policy, drafted over the course of the last nine months or so, is principally designed to guide Board members as they select new names for the bevy of new school facilities set to open in the coming the years.

It would recommend putting an emphasis on selecting geographical names with “historic or geographic significance to the Arlington community’s history. But if the Board is to name a school after an individual, that person’s “‘principal legacy’ (i.e. the key activity, advocacy or accomplishment for which the individual is most known)” needs to align with “the APS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs,” according to the proposal.

Yet, under those criteria, APS staff also suggested that the Board would need to rename Washington-Lee, given Lee’s legacy fighting for the Confederacy, which championed slavery.

“A lot of people don’t like change and we know that it’s difficult in all aspects,” said Linda Erdos, APS assistant superintendent for school and community relations and the facilitator of discussions around the naming policy. “But everybody kept saying, ‘Diversity should be on the minds of people, the diversity of the people served.'”

Such a change would certainly not be without controversy — some Washington-Lee alumni have been vocally protesting any change to the school’s name, over concerns that such move would tarnish a fixture of Arlington County. Washington-Lee has used that moniker since it opened in 1925, and some alums urged the Board to put the matter to a public referendum.

“The Arlington voters should make the decision, not five persons,” said Betsy Lockman, a W-L alum.

Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, echoed that call in a press conference ahead of the meeting. Stewart made his opposition to the removal of statues of Confederate generals in Charlottesville a hallmark of his failed bid for governor last year, and he dubbed any consideration of renaming Washington-Lee as an example of “political correctness gone rampant.”

“I guarantee you, the citizens of Arlington County and the alumni think, ‘Leave it alone,'” Stewart said. “The average citizen, including here in Arlington and throughout the country, realizes it’s absolutely ridiculous and a tremendous waste of Arlington County’s resources and the school system’s resources.”

Vice Chair Reid Goldstein wasn’t willing to call for something as unorthodox as a referendum on the issue, but he did, at least, want to see the Board slow down a bit.

“I don’t think one week is enough time to consider this,” Goldstein said. “I would like to hear from the community in a way that is a little bit more balanced than the way that we’ve heard in the past, because, to me, this is a significant issue.”

Yet Board member Tannia Talento pointed out that the proposed policy has already been in the works for months, and would lay out a lengthy process that would focus on Washington-Lee’s name specifically. If adopted, the proposal calls for the Board to convene a committee on the issue, which would issue a recommendation on the school’s name by November. The Board would then vote on the issue in December, with any new name to fully take effect by September 2019.

Accordingly, Kanninen recommended that the Board push ahead and take up the new policy sooner, rather than later.

“We have a clear and rational policy proposal that we’re looking at, and it will chart our path as we proceed to the next steps,” Kanninen said.

Photo via Google Maps

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School Board Nears Agreement on Plan to Add Some, But Not All, Amenities to Career Center Site

(Updated at 1:45 p.m.) The Arlington School Board is nearing consensus on a plan to build 1,050 new seats for high schoolers at the county’s Career Center by 2024, with some, but not all, of the features community members want to see at the site.

At a May 22 work session, the Board expressed broad agreement on changes to Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed 10-year construction plan, known as the capital improvement plan. School leaders have yet to finalize these decisions, but Board members signaled an increased willingness to embrace a plan that costs roughly $64 million more than the one Murphy proposed.

The Board has spent the last few weeks grappling with how, exactly, they’d execute a plan members agreed to last summer calling for Arlington Public Schools to add more capacity yet avoid building a fourth comprehensive high school, by adding seats to the Career Center (816 S. Walter Reed Drive) and the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street).

Murphy originally suggested that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026. That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, but would not include the addition of other amenities parents in the area have been demanding.

The Board was previously considering more ambitious plans to outfit the Career Center site with a full complement of athletic fields and performing arts space. But the increased cost of those options, when combined with how the spending would strain APS’ capacity for taking on debt, seems to be scaring off Board members.

“I wanted to know how we could fast track seats and get all the amenities,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “I think it’s clear that would put us in a situation where it wasn’t affordable.”

The Board is moving closer to embracing a plan that would bump up the construction of 800 additional seats at the Career Center to 2024, but also calls for the addition of a performing arts wing, a synthetic athletic field and a parking garage to the site.

“It’s very important that we add seats, but also that our seats be high quality,” said Board Chair Barbara Kanninen. “This would be what almost all of our high school students want to see in their school day.”

The Career Center would still not include every possible amenity the community might want to see, like a swimming pool or additional athletic fields, a point the Board repeatedly acknowledged. But Kanninen stressed that students at other county high schools have to travel elsewhere to participate in some sports or specialty classes, and she does not feel that building the Career Center school without those amenities would be inequitable for South Arlington residents.

“When we make a promise that we’re providing a quality high school experience, do we make the promise that the opportunity is within a certain distance of their school?” Kanninen said. “Because that’s what we’re hearing from the community, and that’s not the case at our schools… I think we need to have that conversation with the community, and I don’t think we have had it.”

The plan still comes with plenty of its own fiscal challenges, even if it’s not as ambitious as other options the Board considered. Board member Nancy Van Doren suggested that only building a field at the Career Center site and leasing parking elsewhere — instead of building a whole new garage — could help keep costs down.

Other members focused on yet another challenging question for the Board to decide: should the Career Center be a neighborhood school, drawing primarily from the surrounding area, or an option school open to students across the county?

Leaders of the Arlington Heights Civic Association have argued that making the Career Center a neighborhood school without it containing a full set of amenities would represent a fundamental disadvantage for students in the area, and some members tended to agree.

“If we acknowledge we can’t do equitable neighborhood seats there because we can’t provide all the features when the school opens, that pushes it into choice programs,” said Vice Chair Reid Goldstein “But, of course, that requires more buses.”

Kanninen stressed that the Board does not have to decide on that particular question just yet, and there are other options available.

“I don’t want a site that’s neighborhood without amenities, but I don’t want something that’s all option as well,” O’Grady said.

The Board is set to adopt its final CIP on June 21. Members will also meet with the County Board in the meantime to see if the county can offer additional construction funding, though County Manager Mark Schwartz has warned that such a prospect currently seems unlikely.

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School Board Weighs Options to Beef Up Amenities for Career Center High School Plan

Arlington Public Schools is set to add seats for 850 high schoolers by 2021, but the key question for school leaders now is how, exactly, that construction might proceed.

The School Board is gearing up to award a $2.4 million contract for design work at the “Education Center” site adjacent to Washington-Lee High School (1426 N. Quincy Street), where the school system has planned to add space for up to 600 high school students three years from now. Rather than building a fourth comprehensive high school, the Board agreed last summer on a plan to split new seats between the Education Center and the Arlington Career Center just off Columbia Pike (816 S. Walter Reed Drive).

But the Board is also weighing a plan to use the Education Center site for elementary school use instead, while accelerating the construction of new high school seats at the Career Center. Another option would leave high schoolers at the Education Center, but still accelerate the Career Center seats.

Both plans would let APS build additional amenities at the Career Center site, a notable change as parents in the area raise concerns that students there wouldn’t have the same opportunities — a full complement of athletic fields, for instance — as other high schoolers under APS’s current plans.

“We feel like we’re being told we’re asking for too much by simply asking for equality,” Kristi Sawert, president of the Arlington Heights Civic Association, told ARLnow.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy is proposing a 10-year construction plan that broadly follows the outline of the deal the Board hammered out last summer — he’s suggesting that APS add space for 600 high school students at the Education Center site and 250 at the Career Center by 2021, then tack on 800 more seats at the Career Center in 2026.

That construction would also involve the addition of a multi-use gym and “black box” performing arts theater at the Career Center, with plans to build a new elementary school all the way out in 2029.

Yet, at a May 15 work session, county staff presented the Board with two alternatives.

One calls for moving the 800-seat expansion at the Career Center up to 2024, while simultaneously constructing an addition for performing arts programs. Then, a few years later, APS would add a synthetic athletic field on top of an underground parking garage at the site.

That option would reduce the school system’s reliance on trailers at the high school level a bit sooner, but force APS to delay plans to add more middle and elementary school seats, APS planner Robert Ruiz told the Board.

The other option APS staff developed calls for moving the Montessori program at Patrick Henry Elementary School to the Education Center instead, then sending 500 high schoolers to Henry by 2021.

By 2024, APS would add 800 seats at the Career Center, which would help replace the Henry seats. That option would also guarantee a full range of amenities at the Career Center by 2026, including two synthetic fields, an underground parking garage, a performing arts addition, a gym and a black box theater. Murphy’s current plan only calls for the gym and theater to be built.

However, it would also be about $10 million more expensive than Murphy’s plan, an unpleasant prospect for Board members after APS narrowly avoided class size increases in its last budget.

In all, Leslie Peterson, assistant superintendent of finance and management services, estimates the plan would involve APS spending at least 10 percent of its budget on construction debt from 2023 to 2027, when the school system has long sought to avoid exceeding that 10 percent figure.

“Taking on more debt has a higher impact on operating budgets, and that means that’s less we can put into enrollment increases or compensation,” Peterson said.

The first alternative, involving accelerating the second phase of Career Center construction, is even more expensive, and could cost $64 million more than Murphy’s proposal. The debt would be a bit more spread out, however, with APS set to exceed that 10 percent figure in just two years.

However, Board members did suggest that the County Board could step in to help fund the Career Center construction, though those negotiations are ongoing.

The two boards are set for a joint meeting on May 29, as each moves closer to approving their new capital improvement plans. The School Board is set to kick off design work at the Education Center with a vote on May 31, though county staff assured Board members that work will take into account whichever alternative officials choose.

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