Local education activist Symone Walker is no longer seeking the Democratic endorsement in her campaign for School Board, instead opting to run purely as an independent in the fall.
In Virginia, all School Board races are nonpartisan, but parties can still endorse candidates. In a statement, Walker said she is no longer seeking the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s endorsement.
Walker “will not participate in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s (ACDC) school board caucus for the party’s nomination, citing the committee’s inability to effectively address ongoing harassment her campaign received from an opponent in the race and instead will continue as an independent candidate for one of two seats on Arlington’s school board,” the statement said.
“Walker started her campaign in January after having received a favorable ethics opinion from her federal agency employer finding her candidacy compliant with the Hatch Act and citing a federal statute that allows her to run for the school board,” the statement continued. “Despite this, an opponent has continued harassing her by filing and purposefully escalating a series of complaints with a clear goal to reverse these initial, favorable determinations and derail her candidacy.
“After the political harassment against Walker succeeded in characterizing the ACDC caucus process as partisan enough to be not compliant with the intent of the law, ACDC needs to reconsider that the process now unfairly disenfranchises the approximately 37,000 federal employees living in Arlington, who comprise one-third of the electorate, many of whom are well qualified for the school board,” the campaign added.
It was not immediately clear which of the five other candidates challenged Walker’s candidacy by citing the Hatch Act, which “prohibits employees in the executive branch of the federal government… from engaging in some forms of political activity.”
Arlington Democrats said that the committee has “no standing to intervene in her employing agency’s decision-making about the nature of those restrictions and has no authority to countermand the agency decision.”
“Arlington Democrats appreciate Ms. Walker’s cautious approach to complying with the Hatch Act legal restrictions applicable to her as a Federal employee,” ACDC Chair Jill Caiazzo said via email. “Like other organizations that endorse candidates in school board races, such as education associations and teacher unions, Arlington Democrats believe that its endorsement is one of many valuable data points about these races for voters.”
“With respect to the harassment concerns associated with the raising of this legal compliance matter by another campaign, Arlington Democrats leadership spoke separately to both candidates in an effort to address the concerns, as well as offered the opportunity for Ms. Walker to speak directly to the Arlington Democrats Steering Committee to determine whether action by the organization could or should be taken about her concerns,” Caiazzo added. “We look forward to the continued exchange of ideas in this year’s school board race, as we work toward our shared goal of a strong school system that empowers all students, teachers, and staff. “
The other School Board candidates who have announced their intention to seek the Democratic endorsement include Cristina Diaz-Torres, David Priddy, Sandy Munnell, Steven Krieger and Terron Sims. The deadline to file as a candidate is today.
Walker, a Jamaican immigrant who has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years, has advocated on various school and community issues. Recently, she has been quoted making the case for shorter summer breaks for students, revamped literacy testing, and better vetting of Arlington Public Schools’ new diversity chief.
Photo via Facebook
Arlington County may have opted to keep the tax rate steady, or even cut it, but the Arlington Public Schools (APS) says it still needs to find a way to bridge at least a portion of a $27.6 million budget gap.
In total, Interim Superintendent Cintia Johnson’s budget comes out to $725.9 million in expenditures and only $698.4 million in revenue, assuming the transfer from the county to the school system remains as proposed by County Manager Mark Schwartz.
Budget gaps are nothing new for APS, but the difference has often been covered by tax hikes that the off the table for this year. The familiar pattern prompted some cynicism at a budget work session last night from School Board member Nancy Van Doren, who said she’d been through the budget dance six times and hoped that maybe this year would be different.
“Maybe I’ve just done this too many times but I know the process we’re about to go through,” Van Doren said. “We have a greater need than the money allocated to us by the county. They have proposed their tax rate and it’s not going to be enough for us to cover our budget. Therefore we’re going to them and asking them for more money. They’re going to decide how much they give us and we’re going to adjust our budget.”
“That will involve a lot of community angst,” she added.
Van Doren proposed, at some point in the budget process, meeting with the County Board formally before the School Board prepares its final budget.
“There’s a script to this that we all go through, and it’s exhausting,” Van Doren said. “I’m wondering if we might write a letter to the county and say ‘we have a 27 million shortfall, how much are you going to help us with’ so we can cut to the chase and find out what we have to close.”
She faces a similar veteran of budget gaps, County Manager Mark Schwartz, who in his budget presentation to the County Board said he fully expected APS to request more funding, but that the $17.7 million more than last year that the school is receiving should be enough to account for the increase in students.
Johnson’s budget presentation cited a 4% increase in enrollment and rising costs for students with special needs, transportation services, substitutes, ADA accommodations and health insurance as factors in the gap. Enrollment growth accounted for $12.8 million, but that was not the largest new cost in the budget.
The largest cost increase in Johnson’s budget is a step increase for school employees and a 1.6% cost of living adjustment, totaling to $18 million. There are also $10.3 million in one-time and ongoing costs for opening five new schools and programs, according to a press release from APS.
The budget also proposes 84 new special education and special needs positions throughout the school system — at an annual cost of $6.56 million — and around 35 new full-time English Learner teachers, at an annual cost of $3.89 million, to comply with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.
A new challenger, Steven Krieger, has entered the already crowded race for the Arlington School Board.
In late January, Krieger joined five other candidates vying for two openings on the School Board after incumbent members Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren announced they would not be running for reelection. Candidates Symone Walker, Cristina Diaz-Torres, David Priddy, Sandy Munnell, and Terron Sims made their case for an endorsement to the Arlington County Democratic last month with the caucus scheduled for May 7 and 9.
Krieger is a local attorney with one child currently in Arlington Public Schools. He describes himself as a “social justice advocate” who is, admittedly, “not an educational policy expert.”
Krieger’s platform includes strong opposition to the controversial school swap approved last week, echoing criticism from parents that the shift does little to address school overcrowding. From his website:
Stand Up Against Boundary Changes and Program Moves that Destroy Communities. For Arlington Public Schools to continue its excellence, we must ensure that we have the correct number of seats for our students in the right areas – especially as the county grows and neighborhoods are developed. However, determining exactly where seats are needed, how many seats are needed, when the seats are needed, and how new seats are obtained is a huge challenge. Without this critical information, decisions should not be made. Moving schools and destroying communities should be the absolute last resort for APS – not the first solution attempted.
Other topics on Krieger’s campaign page include working to reduce the disparities between white students and minority students, supporting policies that reduce the schools’ ecological footprint, and getting students more involved in School Board policy.
“For too long, Arlington Public Schools hasn’t paid enough attention to input from students and parents,” Krieger said. “In short, they haven’t listened to us. I’m running for the School Board because that needs to change.”
The deadline to file as a candidate is March 2.
Photo via Steven Krieger
Bloomberg Event Prompts Protests — Dozens of gun rights protesters demonstrated in front of the Bloomberg presidential campaign office last night during an event featuring D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser. [Twitter, Twitter]
Dorsey Talks to Local TV Station — “Arlington County board member Christian Dorsey is speaking out about the ethics violation that led to his resignation from the Metro board… ‘I’m embarrassed certainly, and disappointed,’ Dorsey said.” [WJLA]
ACFD Responds to Four Alarm Blaze — “Fourteen townhomes and five buildings were destroyed in a massive blaze that tore through a five-story building in… Fairfax County Saturday morning and filled the air with black smoke that could be seen for miles.” [NBC 4, Washington Post, Twitter]
Superintendent Finalists Won’t Be Revealed — “Arlington School Board members will cloak their search for a new superintendent in as much secrecy as their predecessors have done. ‘We will not have a community-selection committee and will not share our finalists,’ School Board Chairman Tannia Talento said on Feb. 6.” [InsideNova]
Imperfect Arlington, Revisited — In the spirit of the late, lamented Imperfect Arlington: What’s up with the (supposedly) smaller scones at Northside Social? “Was told by @NorthsideSocial staff that they have ‘accidentally’ been making them too big, apparently for several years.” [Twitter]
Nearby: Skyline Offices to Become Housing? — “Fresh off acquiring the aging Skyline office park in Baileys Crossroads, a team of developers is sketching out plans to convert three buildings there into… a total of 764 residential units. Somera, out of New York, bought the 6.4-acre property on Leesburg Pike for $215 million back in November, pledging to bring residential and retail uses to the 1970s-era office buildings there.” [Washington Business Journal]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
Students and staff at three North Arlington elementary schools will be moving to new buildings, starting in the fall of 2021.
The School Board voted 4-1 Thursday night to approve the controversial school swap, despite vocal opposition from parents, including a petition against it that received more than 2,000 signatures. As with last night’s school calendar vote, Reid Goldstein was again the lone vote against the proposal.
Under the superintendent’s recommended school moves, the following will happen:
- “Majority of McKinley students move with principal and staff to Reed site”
- “All of Arlington Traditional community can move to McKinley site”
- “All of Key Immersion community can move to ATS site”
- “Key site becomes a new neighborhood school”
Those against the moves expressed concerns about longer drives to school, breaking up school communities and making it more difficult for those from disadvantaged backgrounds to stay at their current schools.
“Taking away a Spanish-speaking families’ choice to send their children to [the Key Spanish immersion school] removes a primary life line for support and in many cases for survival,” said one parent. School administrators argued that moving the Key program to ATS actually puts it closer to more Spanish-speaking families.
“The numbers don’t even work,” said another upset parent. “You’re proposing to move 758 students from McKinley schools to 725 seats in the new Reed school. The numbers don’t add up.”
There were also speakers in favor of the moves, including a father whose young kids will soon be entering Arlington Public Schools. He argued that the moves make sense, despite some short-term pain for current parents, and are better than the alternatives presented by APS.
Administrators said about twice as many students would be assigned to new schools under boundary changes alone, compared to the adopted school swaps. That’s in part the result of population growth along the Orange Line corridor, near Key Elementary.
“Approximately 4,000+ or 38% of all neighborhood elementary students would be reassigned to a new school” without the school moves, APS said.
Some School Board members were apologetic in voting yes on the proposal.
“I’m so sad that as we all come together to figure out how to handle our boundary issues we wound up having so much hurt over trying to figure out how to fill our new schools,” said Monique O’Grady.
“I am making the difficult decision that I believe is right for the whole county,” School Board Chair Tannia Talento said. “This is the best decision we can make at this time… ensuring that there is minimal impact on all schools.”
“I know this is hard and I’m sorry it’s not turning out as many of you would like,” Talento said.
There’s more hard work ahead for the School Board. Next up, the Board will tweak elementary school boundaries to balance enrollment at other schools, and will create new neighborhood attendance zones for some of the schools involved in the swap.
The full Arlington Public Schools press release about the decision is below, after the jump.
After some back-and-forth, the Arlington School Board last night approved a new pre-Labor Day start for the next school year.
The board voted to approve the interim superintendent’s recommended Aug. 31 start date, with a bit of a caveat. The 4-1 vote followed discussion about what to do about families that have already made travel plans that will now be impacted by the earlier start date.
Reid Goldstein was the lone ‘no’ vote. He previously moved to adopt a calendar that maintained a post-Labor Day start, on Sept. 8, but the motion failed. He said the board was voting too late on a change that will affect families.
“The calendar consideration cycle started later than it should have, and now it’s concluding later than it should and [later than] is convenient for communication,” he said.
Another motion, to instruct the superintendent and principals to be lenient with students missing the first week of school, also failed. The motion from School Board member Tannia Talento would have also instructed administrators to ensure that the first week of school would be light on instruction, so students with existing vacation plans do not miss too much.
Talento’s motion failed after it was asserted that existing APS policy would call for excused absences and efforts to help students catch up under such circumstances.
In supporting the superintendent’s recommendation, School Board member Barbara Kanninen noted that based on mixed feedback from parents, students and school staff, “we clearly have community members who have completely different feelings.” The Aug. 31 start was the result of school staff working “to find common ground,” she said, and wouldn’t unduly shorten the summer break thanks to this year’s late Labor Day holiday, on Sept. 7.
Under the new calendar, students will have a four-day weekend for Labor Day, after four days of school. The school year will end on June 16 for high school students and June 18 for elementary and middle school students.
As previously reported, the proposed calendar also calls for a two-week winter break, a one-week spring break, three weekdays off for Thanksgiving break, Columbus Day and Veterans Day off, and no school on Election Day in November, which will be a telework “grade prep” day for teachers, among other off days.
The neighboring jurisdictions of Falls Church, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County have approved pre-Labor Day start date — between Aug. 24-27 — for the next school year. Among suburban Northern Virginia public school systems, only Alexandria is sticking with a post-Labor Day start date of Sept. 8, at least for now.
After an extended period of contemplation, which led to some parent complaints, the Arlington School Board is set to vote on the 2020-2021 school calendar tonight.
Arlington Public Schools has been considering a pre-Labor Day start after state law changed last year to allow it. Since then, the neighboring jurisdictions of Falls Church, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, and Prince William County have approved pre-Labor Day start date — between Aug. 24-27 — for the next school year.
Among suburban Northern Virginia public school systems, only Alexandria is sticking with a post-Labor Day start date of Sept. 8, at least for now.
Seeking to balance the desires of parents to keep their late summer vacation plans, and those who want school to start earlier, Arlington’s interim superintendent is recommending a Monday, Aug. 31 start date, followed four days later by a four-day Labor Day break, from Friday to Monday.
The superintendent’s recommendation calls for a June 16 last day of school for high school students and a June 18 last day for elementary and middle school students.
The proposed calendar also calls for a two-week winter break, a one-week spring break, three weekdays off for Thanksgiving break, Columbus Day and Veterans Day off, and no school on Election Day in November, which will be a telework “grade prep” day for teachers, among other off days.
A staff presentation released ahead of Thursday night’s School Board meeting refers to 2020-2021 as a “transition year,” perhaps paving the way for an earlier start date in future years.
The presentation also gives the School Board the option of voting on a school calendar with a post-Labor Day start, on Sept. 8, and a June 23-25 last day of school.
The Washington-Lee High School Alumni Association filed suit against the Arlington School Board last week, alleging that changing the school’s name to “Washington-Liberty” was done unlawfully and is causing harm to the association.
The 48-page suit, filed in Alexandria federal court, can be found here in PDF form. Arlington’s current interim superintendent, former superintendent and former deputy superintendent were also named as defendants, in their official capacities.
In the suit, the Alumni Association alleges that school administrators “deceived” the public by conducting a “sham process” that was predetermined to remove Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s “prestigious” name from the school.
This is a case where politicians and their associates actively deceived their constituents, including the Alumni Association and its members, in order to deprive them of their opportunity to comment on changes that would greatly harm their educational reputations. Specifically, these politicians conspired to impose their own political values on the community by changing the prestigious, century-old name of Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty High School, without concern for the fact that the students and alumni would no longer have the prestige of the original name.
Defendants knew that the public would not support such changes, and sought to actively stymie public debate on this issue. To that end, Defendants repeatedly and falsely promised their constituents that there would be a lengthy comment period later in the year where members of the public could weigh in on whether the school’s name should be changed. Then, instead of providing the promised comment period, Defendants suddenly and without warning made the decision to change the school’s name.
Alumni were denied Constitutionally-protected due process by school officials, the suit says, detailing how dissenting voices were allegedly shut out of the name change discussion.
As a result of Defendants’ strong-arm tactics, three Committee members resigned in protest of the sham process. These resignations included two of the three non-Board-affiliated Washington-Lee alumni. As a result, the version of the Naming Committee that delivered the “recommendation” to the Board contained only one Washington-Lee alumnus other than the daughter of the former Board member who had campaigned for the name change.
Although Defendants had promised that this time period would be designed to facilitate public commentary, Defendants banned members of the public from making any comments at the Naming Committee’s meetings. Instead, public comment was limited to a suggestion box that only allowed very brief statements. Moreover, comments in that suggestion box were subject to screening by Defendants and their agents before the Naming Committee could see them. Ultimately, the Naming Committee rarely discussed any of the public suggestions, in contrast to Defendants’ earlier promises that this phase existed to obtain public feedback.
The suit claims that the Alumni Association is suffering financial and membership losses as a result of the name change.
These actions have greatly harmed the Alumni Association and its members by, among other things, causing confusion in the Alumni Association’s operations, causing the Alumni Association to suffer financial loss and a decline in membership, and causing the Alumni Association’s members to lose the prestige associated with the school’s original name.
The association might have to shut down if the name of the school is not changed back to Washington-Lee, the suit suggests.
A caucus will be held in May to determine the Democratic endorsees for Arlington School Board.
The Arlington County Democratic Committee announced the caucus dates and format last week. It will be split between two separate days and at two locations, though caucus goers will only need to show up once:
- Thursday, May 7 from 7-9 p.m. at Drew Elementary (3500 23rd Street S.)
- Saturday, May 9 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. at Washington-Liberty High (1301 N. Stafford Street)
- Cristina Diaz-Torres
- Steven Krieger
- Sandy Munnell
- Dave Priddy
- Terron Sims
- Symone Walker
School Board races in Virginia are considered nonpartisan, and candidates technically run as independents, but the Arlington Democrats endorsement caucus serves as a kind of de facto primary.
Separately, the local party announced that that it will hold a primary for the Arlington County Board race on Tuesday, June 9. (The presidential “Super Tuesday” primary in Virginia is happening March 3.)
The general election this year will be hold on Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The full press release from the Arlington County Democratic Committee is below, after the jump.
Equity was the buzzword of the night as five Arlington School Board candidates announced their candidacy at an Arlington County Democratic Committee meeting last week.
Two incumbent School Board members, Tannia Talento and Nancy Van Doren, are not running for reelection, leaving two of the five School Board seats open. A video posted by Blue Virginia showed each of the five Democratic candidates running for those two seats making their pitch at last week’s meeting.
(While School Board races in Virginia are nonpartisan, Arlington Democrats hold an endorsement caucus that functions as a defacto primary.)
In speaking order, the candidates were:
Symone Walker: An attorney and parent of two students at Gunston Middle School, Walker’s campaign speech was the first of the evening to focus on equity. Walker said every decision needs to be made “through an equity lens.” Walker also suggested that schools being more adept at handling student trauma, from training administrators to educating parents on ways to handle emotional situations, could help prevent school shootings.
Cristina Díaz-Torres: Díaz-Torres is a former geometry and AP statistics teacher who said her experience in a classroom that had more students than desks helped inform her decision to try to change education administration.
“[Policies] were made and written by folks who were well intentions but had no experience in classroom,” Díaz-Torres said.
During her speech, Díaz-Torres pledged to deliver teacher compensation that would allow educators to live in Arlington and to eliminate what she described as “deceptive” practices in the way the school system presents data and information to the public.
David Priddy: Priddy — who previously ran for School Board — is an Arlington Public Schools graduate and parent to a student in Thomas Jefferson Middle School. He told Democrats that his business experience gave him experience making cuts and difficult decisions that will help bring a sense of fiscal responsibility to the School Board. Like Walker, Priddy said his campaign would center on securing equity between students. Priddy also vowed to revamp the school district’s boundary process.
“We are starting to lose teachers to neighboring jurisdictions who offer better support in the classrooms… and yes, better pay,” Munnell said. “That’s a real change for Arlington. If we don’t keep quality teachers in the classrooms, we can’t keep quality results.”
Terron Sims: An Iraq War vet and former County Board candidate, Sims said his military experience taught him lessons about accountability and management that he hopes to bring to the School Board. On Sims’ website, he says his goal is to promote more apprenticeship programs at Arlington Tech and the Career Center and to continue to work on securing more community partnerships to help offer opportunities to students.
After the Democratic endorsement caucus, the date of which has yet to be announced, the two new School Board members will be chosen in the Nov. 3 general election.
File photo. Hat tip to Blue Virginia.
Wakefield High School students will soon have a new way of getting to and from school: Capital Bikeshare.
A new CaBi station with eleven bike docks was approved unanimously at the Jan. 9 School Board meeting. The station will be placed near the other bicycle racks on the southern side of the school, along S. Dinwiddie Street.
The agreement between Arlington Public Schools and Capital Bikeshare is effective for five years, with an automatic renewal thereafter. The agreement specifies that the Capital Bikeshare is responsible for the costs of setting up the station and maintenance.
There are nearly 100 Capital Bikeshare stations in Arlington, with a number of other stations in the works across the county. There are several stations not far from Wakefield, along Four Mile Run Drive, Columbia Pike, and around Shirlington.
The plans did not include a timeframe for when the new station will be implemented. A school spokesman said the timeline will be determined by the Capital Bikeshare.
Photo via Arlington Public Schools