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The Arlington Public Schools Syphax Education Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán is proposing an earlier start to school next fall and more instructional days than the current academic year.

If approved, the 2023-24 calendar would have 180 instructional days for all students and would start on Aug. 21, 2023. This year, elementary and high school students have 175 instructional days and middle schoolers have 174, falling under the state standard of 180 days and APS calendars pre-pandemic.

The proposal comes after APS received more than 7,100 responses from families and staff earlier this fall in a survey gauging approval of the current calendar and asking for input on three possible calendars for next year. Some respondents urged APS to align its calendar with neighboring jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County Public Schools, and others suggested reducing the number of cultural and religious holidays, per presentation materials for the upcoming School Board meeting this Thursday.

“It is important to align with neighboring districts for holidays and start day… so that our schools can be fully staffed with your teachers,” one respondent said, per a presentation.

Another said they “support the spirit of inclusiveness, but do not support APS adopting so many religious holidays.”

Durán’s proposal has the same start date for students as the proposed or approved calendars for many neighboring jurisdictions, except FCPS, which appears not to have a proposal yet.

Calendars for Arlington Public Schools and nearby jurisdictions (via APS)

Durán’s calendar starts a full week before the preference of many survey respondents and a calendar committee comprised of a group of principals, PTA members, teachers union representatives and central office staff. It has a longer winter break than these two calendars as well.

APS 2023-24 calendar options (via APS)

The School Board will receive more information on the preferred calendar and alternatives on Thursday. It is then slated to vote on Durán’s proposed 2023-24 calendar on Thursday, Dec. 15.

The proposed increase would mark a return to aspects of pre-pandemic calendars, something for which watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education has advocated over the last year. It says this is one way to address its focal point of learning loss.

“Abandoning our longstanding commitment to providing at least 180 days of school, especially given the historic learning loss currently facing APS students, is the wrong approach,” the group said in a recent calendar analysis. “Our students deserve for their school system to return to its historical practice of meeting both the 180-day and 990-hour Virginia state standards.”

Over the last 10 years, the APE says, 181 days has been the norm for student attendance days. APS dipped under 180 days during the 2020-21 school year, at the onset of the pandemic, and has not returned to 180 days since, it said.

APS calendars over the last 10 years (via Arlington Parents for Education)

A few years ago, APS began starting the school year before Labor Day after former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam authorized schools to start up to two weeks before the September holiday.

“Despite that change, APS has tended to start later than neighboring divisions,” the group said. “The result is fewer days of school for Arlington children.”

Comparative calendars for D.C. area public school systems for the 2022-23 school year (via Arlington Parents for Education)

Starting with the 2021-22 school year, APS also added four non-Christian religious holidays, a move to which some survey respondents objected.

The proposed 2023-24 calendar would observe Yom Kippur (Sept. 25) and Eid al-Fitr (April 10). This fall, APS took days off for Rosh Hashanah and Diwali, but those are not included in next year’s calendar, possibly because they are set to occur on weekends next fall.

“This look-back at 10 years of calendar history and the comparison of the current APS calendar with that of our neighbors indicates that whether it is an earlier start, later finish, use of federal holidays, or different patterns around winter break, APS has options for how it can meet 180 days,” APE said.

Durán proposes 31 days off for federal holidays, winter break, and religious holidays, as well as grade and reporting days.

Proposed days off for students in Arlington Public Schools (via APS)
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(Updated at 9:30 p.m.) What many believed would be the most competitive Arlington County Board race in four years has turned out to be another convincing Democratic victory.

The three-way race between incumbent Democrat Matt de Ferranti and independents Audrey Clement and Adam Theo is, at least to some degree, a referendum on Missing Middle housing.

Clement strongly opposes the proposal to allow smaller-scale multifamily housing in neighborhoods currently zoned only for single-family homes, while Theo supports it. De Ferranti, meanwhile, staked out a middle ground, expressing opposition to the higher 8-unit end of the potential range of allowed housing types.

With 55 out of 57 precincts reporting, de Ferranti has 60% of the vote to 28% for Clement and 10% for Theo.

Both Clement and Theo ran for County Board last year, before Missing Middle came to the fore as a hot-button local issue. In the 2021 race, Democrat Takis Karantonis carried about 60% of the vote to 18% for Clement, 6% for Theo and 14% for Mike Cantwell, another independent candidate..

The Missing Middle proposal has attracted the ire of many homeowners, while a coalition of groups — from affordable housing boosters to the local chapter of the NAACP — support it.

An early look at precinct-by-precinct results shows support for Clement in Arlington’s northern, single-family home neighborhoods. The Madison district in far northern Arlington, for instance, has voted 58% for Clement to 36% for de Ferranti and 4% for Theo. She also claimed the Thrifton (Woodmont), Rock Spring, and Yorktown districts — all also in far northern Arlington.

That compares to the more renter-heavy Met Park district, in the Pentagon City neighborhood, which voted 64% for de Ferranti and 20% for Clement and 15% for Theo.  A more “in between” district — Fairlington, with its mix of townhouses and smaller condo buildings — voted 66% for de Ferranti, 23% for Clement and 9% for Theo.

Also on the ballot today were School Board and congressional races, which were even more lopsided for the Democratic candidates.

For the open Arlington School Board seat vacated by Barbara Kanninen, Arlington County Democratic Committee-endorsed candidate Bethany Sutton has 68% of the vote to 30% for independent James ‘Vell’ Rives IV.

Meanwhile, incumbent Rep. Don Beyer has 77% of the vote in the Virginia 8th District congressional race, to 21% for Republican Karina Lipsman and 1.5% for independent Teddy Fikre.

Arlington Democrats claimed victory on Twitter just after 9 p.m.

De Ferranti tells ARLnow he was impressed by the 85,000 people who voted this election, in which there was no senatorial, gubernatorial or presidential race.

“In Virginia, that doesn’t happen very often,” he said. “There are other elections where there is an even lower turnout. This is a pretty rare election, and to have 85,000 vote in this election is a pretty solid turnout.”

He said addressing climate change, investing in schools and tackling affordable housing and housing affordability — “related but distinct” issues — will be key priorities this term.

“I’m grateful to Arlington residents for the chance to serve them,” he said. “I love doing this job and I’m humbled, grateful, and looking forward to serving over the next four years. I’m going to try and live up to Arlingtonians: that means being smart, thoughtful and compassionate, caring about our community and being forward-looking.”

Clement told ARLnow she was dismayed with the results, though she won four out of 54 districts — including Madison, with her 22-point margin — and came within just over 1% of the vote in another.

“I didn’t perform as well as I thought I would,” she said. “I thought I would push 40% — the sentiment I got on the street indicated a better showing.”

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Election Day is here, and thousands of residents are hitting the polls — manned by 426 volunteers — to cast their ballots in the 2022 mid-term election.

By 9 a.m., about 10% of Arlington voted in-person, according to the county elections office, in addition to the 13% of people who voted early and in-person and 7% who voted by mail.

“The polls have been steady so far this morning,” said Tania Griffin, spokeswoman for the Arlington Office of Voter Registration and Elections.

Turnout in a midterm is typically about half the turnout of a presidential election, Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer previously told ARLnow.

Just over 20,000 people voted early in this year’s general election, Griffin said. Combined with the more than 11,000 absentee ballots sent in, Virginia Public Access Project says Arlington’s early voting rate surpasses those for Northern Virginia and the state. (Nearly 5,000 have not returned the mail ballots they requested.)

Early voting rates in Arlington, the region and the state (via Virginia Public Access Project)

In 2018, the last midterm election, 21,147 ballots were cast early, per VPAP.

While early voting got off to a muted start to in September, and was “slightly slower” than last year’s election, local and statewide Democrats celebrated early voting numbers yesterday during a rally at the home of Matt de Ferranti, the Democrat Arlington County Board incumbent running for re-election.

“The trends are positive, particularly in the three parts of the state that have really competitive congressional districts. We see high numbers, and we really see good Democratic advantage in the early vote,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who came out for the rally. “We really like what we’re seeing.”

In the local U.S. House race, Arlington voters can choose among Democrat incumbent Rep. Don Beyer and his two challengers for the 8th District, Republican Karina Lipsman and independent Teddy Fikre.

Kaine said one top driver for races this year is the economy, which he characterized as a mixed bag.

“You have inflation but you have historic job growth. Inflation might make you worry if there’s a downturn coming, but then you see how strong job growth is — during Biden’s term, 10 million-plus jobs, manufacturing coming back, big job announcements with Amazon,” he said. “I think the evidence will be mixed.”

Among the countywide races, voters can choose between two School Board candidates — independent, Sun Gazette-endorsed James “Vell” Rives IV and Arlington County Democratic Committee-endorsed Bethany Sutton.

In Arlington, the most watched race this year is likely that for County Board, which has become a showdown on the topic of Missing Middle housing — the proposal to open up single-family zoning to smaller-scale multifamily housing.

De Ferranti said that could have driven the relatively higher early voting showing.

“The early vote we’re seeing is so stepped up that we’ll have to see what the total turnout is,” de Ferranti said. “This is greater turnout than 2018 so far, and I think some of that is the discussion we’re having on housing.”

His challengers for County Board — frequent independent candidate Audrey Clement and second-time candidate Adam Theo — say Missing Middle is a litmus test this election.

“After squeezing in last minute doorknocking yesterday, and all the responses I’m receiving this morning at precincts, I’m feeling very optimistic for the campaign and the success of the Missing Middle housing proposal,” Theo told ARLnow.

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School Board candidate Bethany Sutton (via Arlington Democrats)

Earlier this week, we invited the candidates running in Tuesday’s general election to write a post about why our readers should vote for them. Find information here on how and where to vote in Arlington on Nov. 8.

Below is the unedited response from Democrat-endorsed School Board candidate Bethany Sutton.

I am Bethany Sutton and as a 21-year Arlingtonian and engaged community leader, I have the depth and breadth of experience in our schools and community to serve effectively as a member of the School Board.

My children currently attend Jefferson Middle School and the HB Woodlawn secondary program. I began my journey with APS in 2011 when my older child started kindergarten at Randolph Elementary School. I served on the Randolph PTA board for seven years, including three years as president. As PTA president, I held listening sessions with teachers to learn about their needs and priorities, advocated for facilities improvements for an aging school building, and supported getting books into the hands of students in a Title I school where nearly 65 percent of the children are English language learners and nearly 75 percent come from socioeconomically disadvantaged families.

For the past two and a half years, I have served as the coordinator for the Randolph Food Pantry. Our all-volunteer effort centered on providing a one-stop-shop model in which families could access not only groceries to feed their children, but also talk with school leaders, check out library books, access pandemic relief resources, and even get vaccines.

Since 2021, I have served on the Arlington County Food Security Task Force, working on how to address hunger in our community in systemic ways. I also serve on the Columbia Pike Partnership’s Community Advisory Council and I was a member of a large APS task force in 2015 to explore options for locating a new elementary school in the county.

I am Chair of the Advisory Council on Teaching & Learning (ACTL), which I joined in 2018. We work to engage parents and community members across Arlington in conversations about our academic priorities and what students need to support their learning. ACTL includes 14 subcommittees focused on particular content areas-such as Math, Science, and English Language Arts-and on particular student groups such as English language learners and students with disabilities.

My professional background is in higher education and leadership development. The perspective I have gained from working with college and university leaders is a unique lens that I bring to my thinking about K-12 education.

In terms of my priorities for our schools, I would like to highlight three:

I seek to elevate student learning as the fundamental purpose and focus of our school system. Advancing student achievement and digging into the inequities in academic outcomes in our system are high priorities for me. This is a moment for our school system to renew our expectations for student learning and recognize that teachers are critical to our success in helping students achieve measurable progress.

I also care deeply about addressing the health and well-being of our school community. We need to provide a supportive environment in our schools that focuses on helping everyone feel a strong sense of belonging — especially those who often are marginalized, including students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are LGBTQ+. If we want to make meaningful progress on student learning, we must support students’ social and emotional development. It’s also important to balance academics with the other activities that students love and that contribute to their engagement in school, such as sports, theater, music, internships, and community service.

In the next four years, we have an opportunity to rebuild a sense of community around education in Arlington. I believe that the School Board has a responsibility to foster an environment of trust, transparency, and clear communication. I’m not running for School Board because I’m mad about something or because I think something is broken that needs to be fixed. I’m running because I genuinely believe in attentive leadership and good governance. Trust, transparency, and communication are essential components of effective leadership.

I think Arlingtonians will find me to be a thoughtful leader who is focused on listening, learning, and making meaningful contributions to our community.

Editor’s note: Candidates for local races are invited in advance to submit candidate essays, via contact information ARLnow has on file or publicly-listed contact information on the candidate’s website. Reminders are sent to those who do not submit an essay by the evening before the deadline.

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Independent School Board candidate James ‘Vell’ Rives IV (courtesy photo)

Earlier this week, we invited the candidates running in Tuesday’s general election to write a post about why our readers should vote for them. Find information here on how and where to vote in Arlington on Nov. 8.

Below is the unedited response from independent School Board candidate James “Vell” Rives IV.

I have lived in Arlington 23 years. My wife Carmen and I have 2 children attending Wakefield High School and Gunston Middle School. They previously attended Abingdon, Claremont, and Hoffman-Boston Elementary Schools.

My undergraduate degree is in music, and I have directed church choirs for the past 20 years.

I’m a physician. After medical school at the University of Alabama, I completed an internship in internal medicine and then moved to Baltimore for a residency in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital. I then moved to Arlington and began practicing adolescent and adult psychiatry.

I’m a member of the APS School Health Advisory Board, serving as Co-Chair last year, and I’ve proudly served as a County Election Officer for 6 years.

But this year, I am running for School Board, because this is a crucial time for Arlington Public Schools: We have to get back on track.

My top priority is to keep our students and staff physically safe. I want to bring our resource officers (school-based police) back into schools where needed. Second, I want us to keep classrooms open for in-person instruction, safely, whatever it takes. Third, we have to finish making up lost learning. Our graduates need to be competitive for careers and college. I want us to eliminate our achievement gaps without lowering our standards or expectations.

We’ve lost too many good teachers in the past two years. Classroom teachers and other student-facing positions must be a budget priority. I also want every student to get the help they need to reach their full potential – tutoring, math and literacy coaching, homework proctoring, transportation, and family support. These too should be budget priorities.

It’s going to be hard. My experience as a parent, physician, and mental health professional will bring the perspective we need on the board to meet these challenges.

The Sun Gazette has endorsed me, saying “Rives has been more aggressive in delineating the school system’s leadership and operational flaws as he sees them, and his campaign has put the focus squarely on improving the academic outcomes on a student-by-student basis…. [M]uch more than Sutton, Rives has called out the school leadership for its pandemic-era mistakes, a key step in ensuring those mistakes are never, ever repeated.”

As an independent, I am not indebted to any political party or interest group. There has not been a non-Democrat on the School Board in 15 years. They could be so much more effective if they had someone — just one person! — from outside their circle. We could all have more confidence in the governing process: When there is agreement, I will bring credibility; when there is disagreement, I will make sure different viewpoints and concerns are brought to the table and into the decision-making.

I am the candidate who will work for teachers and every student and all of our citizens. I am your candidate, and I respectfully ask for your vote.

You can find additional information about me and my platform on my website, rives4sb.com. My website links to my Facebook page, Rives for School Board, where you can read my responses to questionnaires from the League of Women Voters, the Arlington Special Education PTA, and Arlington Patch.

Editor’s note: Candidates for local races are invited in advance to submit candidate essays, via contact information ARLnow has on file or publicly-listed contact information on the candidate’s website. Reminders are sent to those who do not submit an essay by the evening before the deadline.

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Candidates for Virginia’s 8th Congressional District during a public forum in September (via Arlington County Civic Federation/Facebook)

It’s not easy to beat a Democratic incumbent or endorsee in deep blue Arlington, but independent and GOP candidates in local races are trying to find ways to do just that in the days approaching next week’s general election.

Rep. Don Beyer, who is running to be re-elected to Virginia’s 8th Congressional District, is trading political punches with his challenger Karina Lipsman over news of an investigation into one his staff members.

Barbara Hamlett, a scheduler for Beyer, allegedly reached out to other congressional aides to set up meetings with Chinese embassy members to discuss policy, National Review reported.

“From the moment he learned of these inappropriate activities, Rep. Beyer closely followed directions of security officials, and the staffer is no longer employed by his office,” Beyer spokesman Aaron Fritschner told ARLnow in a statement. “He has been and remains a prominent critic of China’s record on human rights, its threatening behavior towards Taiwan, and its totalitarian repression of its citizens.”

Hamlett “did not have any national security or foreign policy role or influence,” and “inappropriately tried to connect staff in Republican offices with Chinese Embassy staff without Rep. Beyer’s knowledge or consent,” Fritschner said.

ARLnow asked what additional steps Beyer’s office has considered taking to prevent this from happening again. Fritschner said all he can say is that “we are working with security officials to address the issue.”

Lipsman has called for Beyer’s removal from Congressional committees and for a Congressional investigation. Beyer sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.

“I have been part of investigations on sensitive national security subjects before, and it’s very clear to me that, based on what we know, this matter must be thoroughly investigated by Congress,” she said. “The extent of Beyer’s office’s ties to the Chinese government needs to be determined, so the level of national security risk can be determined. His office has clearly been compromised. Again, I’ve held top-level security clearances for years and this situation is well within my experience. It needs to be treated extremely seriously.”

Lipsman said she has served for 14 years in the U.S. defense and intelligence communities and has had security clearances “exceeding Top Secret.”

Fritschner said Lipsman’s “baseless, Trumpian insinuations are reminiscent of her previous declaration that ‘Fauci should be jailed.'”

“Lipsman’s unserious demands are a ploy for attention and money, not a genuine concern about national security, which is why she is fundraising off them,” he said. “In reality, when she was busy scrubbing mentions of her opposition to abortion rights from her website in August, Congressman Beyer was in Taiwan standing with our allies in defense of freedom. Lipsman would rather make political hay out of this than talk about her backing for House Republican leadership which wants to wreck the economy, make inflation worse, cut Social Security and Medicare, and cut off support for Ukraine. We are confident that Northern Virginians will see through her.”

The back-and-forth comes a week before the election. This year, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots for the Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million. For those who are still on the fence, ARLnow will publish, as we do every local election cycle, candidate essays on Friday.

Early voting numbers are down compared with 2021. As of the end of the day yesterday (Monday), about 11,600 people had voted, Arlington Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said. That tracks with the muted start to early voting in September.

“On average, we’ve been slightly slower than last year’s election,” she said.

A week prior to the election last year, about 15,400 people had voted.

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June Prakash, president of Arlington Education Association (via Arlington Public Schools)

Teachers who are part of the Arlington Education Association say there has been a communication breakdown since the School Board authorized collective bargaining in May.

Arlington Public Schools became the second school district in Virginia to do so, after the General Assembly in 2020 repealed a ban on school employees bargaining collectively.

Before that, AEA advocated for public school employees but could not guarantee benefits through legally binding contracts. This month, organization members told the School Board that its approval of the collective bargaining resolution shut out staff, and since then, communication has worsened between employees and APS’s top leaders.

“The collective bargaining resolution that passed in May does not create a fair process,” Arlington Career Center employee Javonnia Hill said at the School Board meeting on Oct. 13. “It is not what you thought it would be.”

As of now, only school administrators have chosen a bargaining unit and elected a representative. Two other employee groups are taking more time to review the resolution language. In the interim, AEA members report not being able to raise concerns directly with Superintendent Francisco Durán and his deputies.

June Prakash, AEA’s new president, said she was prevented from discussing “troubling trends and concerns” with leadership last month because employee groups are still choosing representative bargaining units. She said APS told her that staff should be going to their supervisors or Human Resources instead.

That is not the process AEA members are accustomed to, according to teacher Josh Folb.

“For AEA members, bringing concerns to their union president, who gathers that list to calmly discuss those concerns with the superintendent’s cabinet was the way that we would resolve employee concerns,” Folb said during the meeting. “It prevented the airing of dirty laundry in the public forum.”

He asked the School Board about the appropriate forum to discuss a substitute shortage at the high school level — one so acute that teachers are asked to use their planning periods to teach other courses.

Prakash, who took the helm after AEA’s executive board was ousted following two years of financial difficulties and a drop in membership, said she turned to the Board’s public comment period because of the walls APS put up.

“Did you know our bus drivers, who are required to wear a uniform, are rationed two T-shirts for a five-day work week? Did you know that summer school staff didn’t have keys to the classrooms they were in, leaving our students vulnerable in the event of a lockdown?” she asked. “I look forward to sharing so much more in the coming years. I will not be deterred… I will not fail our members, employees or students.”

APS counters that the collective bargaining resolution was forged with ample feedback, that employees need to move forward with standing up bargaining units, and that employees should discuss concerns with supervisors or Human Resources.

“APS remains committed to working with the Arlington Education Association. AEA continues to voice concerns over the collective bargaining resolution wherein APS met on numerous occasions with AEA and the Virginia Education Association (VEA) to discuss concerns that were brought forth from the associations prior to the final resolution being passed in May 2022,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “More than half of the requests from AEA/VEA were implemented into the approved resolution.”

Longtime teacher Danielle Anctil told the School Board that its vote in the spring has effectively shut employees out.

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Early voting at Arlington County government headquarters on Sept. 23, 2022 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Early voting got off to a muted start today (Thursday) at the Arlington County government headquarters in Courthouse.

“We had a line of five voters when we opened at 8 a.m.,” Director of Elections Gretchen Reinemeyer told ARLnow. “We’ve had 72 voters as of 11 a.m. Flow is slow but steady. The first day of voting last year we processed around 400 voters. We might be slightly under that today.”

Through Nov. 4, registered voters in Arlington can cast their ballots at the county’s election offices for Arlington County Board, School Board and Virginia’s 8th Congressional district, as well as six local bond referenda totaling $510 million.

One seat on the Arlington County Board is up for grabs, with incumbent Matt de Ferranti (D) and independents Adam Theo and Audrey Clement vying for the spot.

One seat on the Arlington School Board is open once member Barbara Kanninen steps down. Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and Vell Rives, her independent challenger, are competing for the position.

Arlington’s representative to U.S. Congress, Rep. Don Beyer, is running again for re-election. His challengers are Republican Karina Lipsman and independent Teddy Fikre.

The bonds, if approved, would fund some of the next 10 years’ worth of capital projects for the county and Arlington Public Schools. If needed, the Arlington County Board can reallocate approved bond funds to other projects within the same bucket, such as transportation or parks.

Though interest rates have been rising, the county says it typically gets lower rates, relatively speaking, thanks to its high credit rating.

“Arlington currently holds AAA general obligation bond ratings from the three major bond rating agencies,” the county website says. “These strong ratings allow the County to borrow at very low interest rates, resulting in lower costs to Arlington taxpayers.”

The planned bonds are as follows.

Metro & Transportation ($52.63 million)

  • Paying Arlington County’s share of Metro’s capital improvement program: $42.6 million
  • Paving local streets and roads, $7.2 million
  • Conducting maintenance on local vehicle and pedestrian bridges, $1.5 million
  • Improving street lighting, $1.1 million
  • Replacing intelligent transportation system devices, $200,000
  • Addressing missing links in curbs and gutters, $100,000

Parks and Recreation ($22.46 million) 

  • Parks maintenance capital and master planning projects, $10.8 million
  • Additional funding for the completed renovations at Jennie Dean Park, $4.4 million
  • Initial planning and designs for the Arlington Boathouse, $2.9 million
  • Arlington’s Natural Resiliency program, which conserves natural resources makes upgrades at parks to prevent destructive flooding, $2 million
  • Funding for the Emerging Uses program, which responds to “emerging recreational activities and casual use spaces,” $2 million
  • Maintenance of synthetic turf fields, $300,000

Community Infrastructure ($53.3 million) 

  • Courthouse and Arlington County Police Department building upgrades, $13.1 million
  • Facilities design and construction, $12.7 million
  • Courthouse renovations and infrastructure, $12 million
  • Fire station replacements and additions, $7.4 million
  • Neighborhood Conservation projects, $5 million
  • Facilities maintenance capital, $3.1 million

Arlington Public Schools ($165 million) 

  • Career Center expansion project, $135.97 million
  • Improvements to kitchens and secure entrances, $12.24 million
  • Major infrastructure projects, $16.8 million

Stormwater ($39.76 million)

Capacity Improvements

  • Spout Run Watershed, $13.26 million
  • Langston Blvd and Sycamore Street culverts, $6.75 million
  • Torreyson Run Watershed, $5.95 million
  • Other capacity improvement projects, $8 million

Water Quality Improvements

  • Gulf Branch Stream, $2.75 million
  • Sparrow Pond Watershed, $1.275 million
  • Other water quality improvements, $1.75 million

Utilities ($177.36 million) 

  • Meeting more stringent environmental regulations at the Water Pollution Control Plant, and increasing capacity there to meet Arlington’s growing population and development, $159.5 million
  • Improving the Washington Aqueduct system, $15 million
  • Improving gravity transmission mains, $2.9 million

The deadline to register to vote this year is Oct. 18. Voters can check their registration status online through the State Dept. of Elections.

Those planning to vote on Election Day may have a change in their polling location. Arlington County is sending out mailers with their district and polling place information for the General Election.

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Arlington County Board “Missing Middle” work session (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Arlington County and School boards would be more competitive and diverse if they were bigger, better-paid and elected via ranked-choice voting, says a group of community leaders and former elected officials.

For about two years, members of the Arlington County Civic Federation Task Force in Government and Election Reform (TiGER) considered how to improve county politics by meeting with community members and hearing from other jurisdictions.

TiGER suggests elections where voters rank candidates by preference, with winners selected over the course of elimination rounds. It recommends expanding the five-member County and School boards to seven, paying them more, and electing three to four members every two years. To increase the boards’ sway in the region, chairs would have two-year terms, with the possibility for a second term.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to improve both the electoral and governance systems of the county to ensure that both the County Board and School Board better represent our diverse community as well as promote effective citizen engagement with our county government,” Allan Gajadhar, TiGER chair and immediate past president of CivFed, told the Arlington Committee of 100 last week.

Some of these ideas are already on the table: Early next year, the Arlington County Board could consider ranked-choice voting, which Virginia has allowed since July 2021. Meanwhile, $20,000 raises for County Board members were part of the Fiscal Year 2023 county budget (for the School Board, wages sit at only $25,000 for members and $27,000 for the chair).

Instead, some attendees were interested in bigger changes, including one TiGER ultimately dismissed: district-based representation.

They pressed Gajadhar and another TiGER member, former School Board Chair Tannia Talento, to explain why redistricting won’t work. They asked if Arlington should become a city with a mayor, or if voters should elect the County Manager, who the County Board appoints.

One asked whether chairs should be elected for four-year terms, not chosen by sitting board members to lead for one year. Another expressed interest in setting aside a County Board seat or two for members of non-dominant political parties.

Problems facing Arlington today

TiGER levied heavy criticism of Arlington’s political landscape. It said the County and School boards do not adequately reflect the the county’s racial and ethnic, socioeconomic and viewpoint diversity, in part because Arlington has had five-person boards since 1930, despite the population being eight times larger today.

Elections don’t ensure proportional representation, encourage the most qualified and diverse candidates or provide competitive races in general elections, it said. Primaries and caucuses discourage people from running and voting and prevent federal employees from running.

These critiques are shared by independent County Board candidates and skeptics of how the Arlington County Democratic Party endorses candidates for the non-partisan School Board. Those who lose the caucus in the spring agree not to run unaffiliated in November, making the end result similar to a primary.

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Men’s restroom sign at county office building at Sequoia Plaza (staff photo)

(Updated, 2:40 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is “aware of and are reviewing” new draft policies handed down by the Commonwealth late last week regarding the rights of transgender students.

On Friday evening, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) released updated “model policies” directing local school boards to adopt a set of new policies relating to the treatment, rights, and actions of transgender students as well as who teachers are allowed to identify as transgender.

The guidelines, seen as a rebuttal to last year’s Democratic-led policies, are set to regulate everything from which bathroom a student can use to the meaning of “the phrase ‘transgender student’.”

In response this morning, APS released a statement saying that it is reviewing the guidelines and will continue to adhere to its own policies related to transgender students.

“APS will continue to uphold our core mission and policies to ensure that every child receives equal educational access and opportunities,” read the statement in part, which is co-signed by Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán and School Board Chair Reid Goldstein.

“We value the many diverse identities within our schools, where every student can authentically express themselves, including those in the LGBTQIA+ community,” the statement continued. “APS continues to take seriously the privilege and responsibility of working towards a shared understanding and mutual respect for all people.”

APS’s response also noted there’s a 30-day public comment period that begins Sept. 26 prior to the enactment of the new state-directed policies. APS spokesperson Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that VDOE could make changes to the policies in response to public comment.

“There is a 30-day public comment period, at which point the VDOE will review comments and make potential changes prior to posting a final document,” Bellavia wrote. “School divisions will need to then review the final document prior to any action.”

Fairfax County Public Schools are “thoroughly reviewing” the guidelines as well.

The new policies, under the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), say that teachers and staff can identify as a transgender student only those whose parents provide written permission.

“The phrase ‘transgender student’ shall mean a public school student whose parent has requested in writing, due to their child’s persistent and sincere belief that his or her gender differs with his or her sex, that their child be so identified while at school,” says the guidelines.

Even if a parent does submit the required written request, however, it does not mean teachers and staff are required to use the student’s name or gender if the staff member believes it will violate their “constitutionally protected rights.”

The new policy has received backlash from some who say that this could result in students being misgendered, outed, and put in harmful situations. It also stands in contrast to APS’s policy first adopted in 2019, which says that students have the right to decide their own gender identity.

“Every student has the right to be addressed by names and pronouns that correspond to the student’s gender identity. Regardless of whether a transgender student has legally changed their name or gender, schools will allow students to use a chosen name and gender pronouns that reflect their gender identity,” reads APS’s policy.

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The Arlington Public Schools Syphax Education Center (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) The failures of the controversial Virtual Learning Program were “an indigestible meal that is going to make you sick,” an Arlington Public Schools auditor told the School Board this summer.

APS created the VLP in May 2021 for families who had reservations about resuming in-person school last fall as well as for students who prefer online instruction. But it quickly malfunctioned for a dozen reasons, according to the audit, prompting school leaders to “pause” the program for the 2022-23 school year and redirect online students to Virtual Virginia (VVA).

APS lacked a formal plan and necessary time to stand up the program, having just the summer to do so, according to auditor John Mickevice. He said planners did not think through the problems that might arise trying to hire 111 teachers in that same period, amid hiring freezes.

The VLP needed more principals, teachers and specialized staff to meet the needs of students, who were overwhelmingly students of color, English learners and students with disabilities, he said. Program leaders were slow to inform administrators of technology issues and teacher shortages.

Arlington Public Schools internal auditor John Mickevice (via Arlington Public Schools)

School Board members accepted the report on July 19 as a “learning” opportunity, taking some ownership for the problems but chalking others up to the pandemic. But they haven’t given up hope on a long-term virtual option, which could relieve capacity pressure and let secondary students pursue extracurricular opportunities, take more classes or recover credits.

A working group and task force are currently exploring what that could look like. Their recommendations are slated for School Board review this December.

“The School Board and Superintendent requested the Audit Report to formally assess the Virtual Learning Program and ensure the issues do not repeat themselves,” School Board Chair Reid Goldstein said in a statement to ARLnow. “The audit reinforced several of the themes which APS staff communicated openly throughout the 2021-22 school year, including insufficient planning time and resources to properly plan for and execute a virtual learning program.”

The working group and task force are “carrying these lessons forward in their work to propose a more sustainable virtual offering for students,” Goldstein said. “APS will continue to keep the community informed as this work progresses.”

Some in the school community say pursuing in-house online learning at all is the wrong takeaway.

“I think the painful lesson to learn was not to do this again. A valuable lesson, but a painful lesson,” said independent School Board candidate Vell Rives. “I think APS should be concentrating on in-person instruction. That’s our charge.”

Bethany Sutton, who has the endorsement of local Democrats, said APS over-extended itself and strayed away from its mission.

“[T]hey lost their way as to whether the VLP was a Covid-related stopgap measure or whether it was a permanent, full-fledged K-12 program,” she said. “This is absolutely a moment for the Board to examine its oversight role, any related policies, and the transparency of how they respond to situations that are emerging in real-time.”

Before getting too far into planning a new program, she said APS needs to determine demand for virtual learning. Currently, there are 33 students enrolled in Virtual Virginia, according to the school system.

In a statement to ARLnow, watchdog group Arlington Parents for Education said the audit demonstrated “there should be a presumption against the use of [virtual learning] options going forward.”

“The audit report identified shocking failures and highlighted that the School Board must take ownership and oversight of APS seriously, including vetting, voting on, monitoring and holding APS leadership accountable for initiatives that impact instruction and the remediation of learning loss,” the group said.

Arlyn Elizee, whose children were in the program last year, said the audit’s lessons won’t be internalized until APS remediates the acute learning loss these children suffered.

“Assuming that all of these issues will soon be addressed [and] remedied as VLP students are dispersed back into their brick and mortar schools or into Virtual Virginia this Fall is not enough,” said Elizee, speaking on behalf of the VLP Parents’ Coalition, which formed to connect families and bolster their advocacy efforts.

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