Dozens of Arlington Public Schools students now hop aboard the system’s first electric school buses.
When students returned from winter break, the county and APS replaced two of its 190 diesel engine buses with emissions-free “and almost noise-free” battery-powered electric ones, the county has announced.
The first two buses are transporting students with disabilities and can each carry up to 38 students. They are expected to log a typical 8,000 miles annually.
After the buses arrived in November, drivers and mechanics received vendor training. The third bus is expected to arrive by the end of January.
“Officials will study data, driving and service experiences with the new vehicles to explore possible expansion of the [battery electric school buses] inventory,” per the county press release.
The buses were purchased with a $795,000 state grant awarded in 2021. As part of the Clean School Bus Program, 19 Virginia districts were awarded with enough funding to replace a total of 83 diesel buses with electric or propane ones.
“Funding for the grant comes from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust, intended to provide the state with about $93 million to mitigate the excess nitrogen oxide emissions caused by VW’s use of illegal emissions testing defeat devices in certain VW diesel vehicles,” the county said in a press release announcing the funding in August 2021.
The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Equipment Bureau services the school system’s fleet of vehicles as well as the county government’s entire fleet, from the Trades Center in Shirlington.
“The County is recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability efforts,” it said in its announcement. “This month, Arlington announced it had achieved its goal of 100% renewable electricity use at all County facilities, two years ahead of schedule.”
Arlington County adopted in 2019 a Community Energy Plan that aimed to power all county facilities with renewable electricity by 2025. Now, it has two more goals to tackle: By 2035, the county aims to power 100% of Arlington’s electricity with renewable sources, and by 2050, the county aims to be carbon neutral.
School Bus Driver Shortage — From an Arlington Public Schools email to families: “Due to a shortage of bus drivers, APS will not be able to operate late buses this afternoon, Fri, April 22, or Mon, April 25. Transportation will not be provided for any scheduled late activities at schools today or Monday. Any scheduled athletic events with approved transportation prior to this announcement will take place as scheduled. APS will resume late bus service on Tue, April 26. We apologize for the inconvenience.” [Twitter]
Water Rescue Call Near Chain Bridge — “Water Rescue – #DCsBravest responded for the report of a person in the water in the vicinity of Chain Bridge Road NW. Upon arrival, adult male already safely removed to shore on VA side and is being transported by @dcfireems
with non-serious/non-life threatening injuries.” [Twitter]
PD, FD Help Make Birthday Special — From the Arlington County Police Department: “Happy Birthday, Sarah Elizabeth! Corporal Smithgall first met Sarah Elizabeth while working as a School Resource Officer and has maintained a relationship with her and her family ever since. When he heard she was celebrating a birthday, he enlisted the help of his patrol squad members and Arlington County Fire Department to make it special with a birthday parade, cake and balloons!” [Facebook, Twitter]
Homelessness Org Needs Bedding — “We have moved clients into permanent housing; please help us make it feel like a HOME. We need six bedding bundles.” [Twitter]
It’s Monday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 54. Sunrise at 6:19 am and sunset at 7:56 pm. [Weather.gov]
More on the Weird Chime Sound — “Janae Bixby first heard the sound near Pentagon City, where I-395 and Glebe Road intersect, as she picked up her kid from daycare on Monday evening around 5. She described it as ‘some sort of clock or doorbell chime that you would hear — very digital.’ She assumed the noise was coming from the building and started heading home. But then, in her car ride home to the southern edge of the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, she kept hearing it, again and again.” [DCist]
Parents Group Wants Smaller Class Sizes — “A group of parents in Arlington, Virginia, is urging the county’s board to allot additional funding to its school system in the next fiscal year’s budget. The group Arlington Parents for Education said in a letter to the board this week that more money should be provided so that class sizes can be smaller, teacher pay can be competitive with surrounding school districts and student mental health and learning loss can be addressed.” [WTOP]
TR Bridge Work Could Wrap Up in June — “A section of the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge that was closed abruptly for emergency repairs two months ago is likely to reopen to traffic in June, according to officials with the District Department of Transportation. Crews began work on the 58-year-old bridge after an early-February inspection found steel support beams had continued to deteriorate, prompting the closure of three middle lanes and restrictions on heavyweight vehicles.” [Washington Post]
Operator Shortage Behind Bus Delays — From MetroHero: “For most of the morning, only one #WMATA 16Y bus has been in service where at least 5 are supposed to be running right… Previously-unannounced operator shortage was the cause of poor 16Y service this morning.” [Twitter]
School Bus Crash Yesterday Afternoon — “A crash involving several vehicles including a school bus has snarled southbound traffic on S. Carlin Springs Road, near Campbell Elementary… No injuries have been reported and one lane of traffic is squeezing by the crash scene. This is the same stretch of road where a group of residents recently called for safety improvements. [Twitter]
Video: Adorable Baby Squirrel — From the Animal Welfare League of Arlington: “We’ve definitely got the cutest thing on the internet today! This baby squirrel came to us underweight and hungry, so after a snack she was transferred to a local wildlife rehabber who will care for her until she can be released back into the wild!” [Twitter]
Arlington GOP Ramps Up Outreach — “They are still on the lookout for local candidates, but the Arlington County Republican Committee also is working to connect with prospective supporters. ‘There are thousands of Republican voters who turn out on Election Day but who are otherwise unengaged with the Arlington GOP,’ party communications chair Matthew Hurtt said. ‘We can change that.'” [Sun Gazette]
FBI Warns of Moving Scam — “The FBI Washington Field Office is warning the public about increasingly prevalent moving fraud schemes and providing information about how to avoid being victimized by them. A typical moving fraud scheme begins when a customer is enticed into entering into a contract with a moving company to transport their household goods by offers of extremely low-cost estimates from a sales representative or broker.” [FBI]
It’s Friday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 72 and low of 52. Sunrise at 6:23 am and sunset at 7:53 pm. [Weather.gov]
The U.S. Congress may be mulling permanent daylight saving time, but Arlington Public Schools is not holding its breath.
Last week, the Senate passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent and end the biannual tradition of changing clocks to “spring forward” and “fall back.” Should the shift clear the House of Representatives and the White House, it would take effect next year.
Sticking to one time year-round has relatively broad support among Americans, businesses and health experts, but there is disagreement over whether daylight saving time, which is used from March to November, or standard time, used for the remainder of the year, would be better.
A lot of people these days think permanent DST is a good idea. The US tried it in the early ‘70s and people grew to HATE it.
— Andrew Beaujon (@abeaujon) March 15, 2022
Although timely, the national debate will not factor into a review of bell times in Arlington Public Schools. The school system is instead considering how to modify start and end times to add ten minutes of instruction to the school day for all grade levels and streamline start and end times.
“Currently, there are 8 different start/end times; the goal is to reduce them to three (or no more than four) for the 2022-23 School Year,” according to a webpage for the study. “By reducing the number of start/end times, APS aims to optimize transportation services and identify efficiencies that will improve APS operations, streamline school bus routes and schedules, and reduce costs.”
APS has come up with five different scenarios — with start and end times varying by school building and grade level — but no scenario include adjustments for a potentially permanent daylight saving time, we’re told.
“APS has not considered any additional options outside of the five scenarios posted on our webpage,” spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “We are soliciting input on five different scenarios with start times ranging from 7:30 a.m. to 9:20 a.m. and end times of 2:20 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.”
Currently, school starts between 7:50 a.m. and 9:24 a.m. and ends between of 2:24 p.m. and 4:06 p.m.
APS is encouraging students, their family members and staff to respond to surveys with their preferred start and end times by this coming Monday (March 28). The surveys also gauge what respondents like or dislike about earlier and later start times.
The responses will figure into a final recommendation, made by a group of APS employees and parents. The recommendation will be presented to the School Board as an information item on April 28 and is slated for a vote on May 12.
Proponents of later start times say it allows kids to sleep in, which improves their mental and physical health and attendance. Additionally, it would result in fewer days of walking to school in darkness, especially under permanent DST.
Arguments for earlier start times include more time for after-school activities and reduced childcare costs for parents. Later start times could also mean students have less time for homework while athletes have a harder time getting to games against other school divisions.
(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Police were on scene of a crash near Yorktown High School involving a school bus and a bicyclist this afternoon.
The exact details around the crash are unclear, but a man was reported to be down on the street and bleeding after the collision with the bus. His injuries are not life-threatening, police said.
After the crash the bus could be seen parked on an uphill portion of Yorktown Blvd at N. Edison Street, while a police cruiser was parked at the intersection of Yorktown and N. George Mason Drive.
“At approximately 2:52 p.m. on January 12, police were dispatched to N. George Mason Drive at Yorktown Boulevard for the report of a crash with injuries involving a bicyclist and an Arlington Public School bus,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “The bicyclist, an adult male, was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries.”
“There were no students on the bus at the time of the crash,” Savage added. “Police remain on scene investigating the circumstances of the crash.”
Brandi Bottalico contributed to this report
Starting this summer, Arlington Public Schools intends to pay its bus drivers the most of neighboring school systems in Virginia and Maryland.
Arlington’s bus drivers would receive the highest wages at all stages of their careers compared to other regional school systems, if APS leadership and the School Board stick to their pledge to improve employee compensation in the 2022-23 fiscal year budget, which is being developed.
This move comes after bus drivers have advocated for better pay and changes to their working environment during demonstrations and School Board meetings. Drivers have asked to receive the same bonuses provided to teachers who agreed to work during summer school and called attention to what they say is bullying and harassment within the transportation department.
APS leadership maintains that the summer school bonus was always just for teachers, but officials say they are taking steps to pay drivers more competitively. First, the School Board approved bonuses in November for all salaried and hourly employees. Now, the Board and APS administration are upping their wages by around $2.
“This is very important to me, to all of us, to ensure we’re properly compensating our employees,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a work session on the budget last week. “We’re not market-competitive right now, in many of our scales and positions.”
APS is looking to overhaul payment structures for teachers, administrators and support staff and make up for pay increases not granted in four of the last 10 years. Durán said this will require some budget tightening.
“I want to acknowledge that it’s going to be very painful for certain sectors of our community, who have been very attached to certain programs, that we are going to need to make some choices to cut,” School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said during the same meeting. “We’re going to need to make those strategic choices in order to invest in the thing we know that matters the most… our staff.”
Compensation for bus drivers and attendants increased in the 2018, 2019 and 2020 fiscal years, APS says. The approved budget for this fiscal year, 2022, includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for bus drivers and pay increases based on years of service.
The planned-for raises in the 2023 fiscal year are welcome, but the devil will be in the details, according to bus driver Christina Childress.
“The starting rate continues to be displayed as $21.59,” she said in a Dec. 2 School Board meeting. “Myself nor any of my colleagues started at that number. Someone contracted for the next three years is being paid 43 cents less than that. Many work multiple jobs due to the compensation they’re not receiving at APS.”
Fellow bus driver Crystal Harris emphasized that the School Board has to act more quickly.
“2023? We don’t even know we’re going to be living in 2022, and you guys are talking about 2023,” Harris said. “Did you not forget we’re living in a world with a deadly disease taking people out on the daily?”
ACPD Thanksgiving Anti-DUI Event — “On Thanksgiving-eve, traditionally a time of celebrations with heavy alcohol consumption, ACPD, in partnership with WRAP, is hosting a Thanksgiving anti-drunk driving event to highlight the impact alcohol has on motor skills. This free event is open to the public and will take place on Wednesday, November 24, at N. Hudson Street and Wilson Boulevard, from 8:00-10:00 p.m.” [ACPD, Twitter]
Shirlington Apartment Employee Slashed — “An employee of the residential building discovered that the laundry room had been locked and upon opening it, discovered the unknown male suspect inside. The suspect produced a knife and struck the victim’s hand, causing a laceration. The suspect then fled the scene on foot. Arriving officers canvased the area with negative results. The victim was transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries.” [ACPD]
Bus Driver Protest in Ballston — “Arlington Public Schools bus drivers are protesting again, this time in Ballston. They’re chanting and getting passing drivers to honk in favor of better pay and fair treatment.” [Twitter, WJLA]
County Seeks Budget Feedback — “Each winter, the County Manager presents a proposed operating budget to the County Board in order to plan spending for the next fiscal year. We’d like to know your thoughts on how Arlington should prioritize necessary spending in FY 2023. Help us get better insight on questions such as: How would you rate the importance of County programs and services?” [Arlington County]
Clement: Fewer Signs Stolen This Year — “In her annual election wrapup at the first Arlington County Board meeting after the votes were in, perennial protest candidate Audrey Clement told board members that she’d been able to gather up a good portion of her campaign signage from medians. ‘I recovered about 450 signs, or two-thirds of the total,’ she told board members. ‘This is a significant improvement over 2020, when two-thirds of my signs were trashed.’ Clement ran second in the four-candidate County Board race.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Monday — A chance of showers today, mainly before 10 a.m. Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 52. Northwest wind 7 to 16 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Sunrise at 6:59 a.m. and sunset at 4:49 p.m. Sunny tomorrow, with a high near 43. Northwest wind 9 to 14 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. [Weather.gov]
Voting Getting Underway — It’s Election Day. Polling places in Arlington are open from 6 a.m.-7 p.m. today. The statewide race for governor is dominating headlines, but here in Arlington there are local races for County Board, School Board and Virginia House of Delegates, plus bond referenda.
Three-Day Week for Students — “It’ll be a three-day work week, so to speak, for Arlington students this week. Classrooms will be closed on Nov. 2 for Election Day, and on Nov. 4, the school system will for the first time celebrate Diwali – a Hindu festival of lights – by taking the day off.” [Sun Gazette]
More on School Bus Driver Protests — Bus drivers for Arlington Public Schools earn the lowest hourly rate among various D.C. area school systems, as compiled by a local TV station. Drivers protested their treatment just over a week ago. [WUSA 9]
Pedestrian Tunnel Closing for Repairs — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “The pedestrian tunnel between Courthouse Metro station and Colonial Place will be closed for repairs this Wednesday through Friday. Aboveground crosswalks will remain open and the views of CVS are exquisite.” [Twitter]
Ticket Sales Restricted for Football Game — “This coming Saturday, November 6th at 3:30PM, W-L Varsity Football team, Cheerleaders and Marching Band will travel to Yorktown to play our last regular season football game. Please note that attendance at this game will be restricted. Free passes will not be accepted. There will be no tickets sold at the gate. Due to restrictions put in place by Yorktown to address capacity and supervision concerns (including students rushing the field), W-L has been allocated 600 spectator tickets.” [Generals Athletics, Twitter]
ACPD Toy Drive Returns Next Week — “Help spread joy this holiday season by donating new, unwrapped toys during the Arlington County Police Department’s (ACPD) seventh annual Fill the Cruiser Holiday Toy Drive. This year, with families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for donations may be greater than ever and your generosity helps ensure the holidays are bright for some of our most vulnerable community members – children in need.” [ACPD]
It’s Tuesday — Today showers are likely, mainly between 11am and 2pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 53. Chance of precipitation is 70%. Sunrise at 7:36 a.m. and sunset at 6:06 p.m. Tomorrow it will be mostly sunny, with a high near 53.
Braving the rain and wind, Arlington Public Schools bus drivers demonstrated along S. Arlington Mill Drive on Friday, calling for better pay and greater respect.
Huddled under umbrellas across from the Arlington County Trades Center (2700 S. Taylor Street) in Shirlington, about 50 drivers held signs saying, “We need our bonus” and “honk 4 drivers” and “equality for all” to cars passing by.
“It was amazing,” said Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant. “The bus drivers and attendants wanted to make sure their voices were heard. They felt like they were empowered to let the public know that we love their kids and we love working for Arlington, but they want to be heard and want to be treated like the rest of employees.”
The bus drivers were protesting what they say is unfair treatment when compared to other APS employees, she said. Drivers are waiting on longevity bonuses and had expected the same summer school bonuses other staff received. They are also frustrated with how they’re treated by transportation office staff.
“The longevity bonus, we’re still in the process of trying to figure that out,” she said, adding that drivers began their advocacy when they learned summer school bonuses wouldn’t apply to them.
This summer, facing deep staff shortages and having promised a robust summer school program, APS offered $1,000 bonuses to teachers and $500 bonuses to assistants who signed up. In September, when APS doled out those bonuses, Gant said bus drivers felt left out despite having worked through the summer.
In addition, drivers recently lost a third of their parking spaces at the bus depot, and most have to take a shuttle from the Barcroft Community Center to their bus. Some have been given placards permitting them to park around the lot, but have recently been getting ticketed.
She said a lottery system was established to ensure spots were distributed fairly, but it was conducted while bus drivers were on their routes, leaving other staff to get the coveted spots.
“The bus drivers are feeling like they’re the last people on the totem pole,” said Gant, who has brought these concerns to Superintendent Francisco Durán since August.
APS spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow that APS is working to address drivers’ concerns, which they have also raised during School Board meetings.
“[We] are working to address the concerns related to compensation and workplace climate that our drivers and attendants have raised in recent meetings. Most recently, staff members were provided a timeline to improve the climate within the office,” he said. “Our bus drivers provide a vital service to students and the community and we are committed to responding to their feedback and ensuring they feel valued and appreciated as members of the Arlington Public Schools team.”
As for the bonuses, he said those were targeted to classroom staff.
“Teaching summer school is voluntary,” he said. “Bonuses were provided to teachers and assistants in an effort to address a significant shortage in teachers for the summer school program. In addition, teachers are on 10-month contracts and summer school is not required of them. Bus drivers are on 11-month contracts which includes summer school.”
APS Getting EV Buses — “Arlington Public Schools (APS), working collaboratively with the County’s Department of Environmental Services (DES), will receive a $795,000 grant from the state, to be spent on three fully electric buses (EV buses) that will replace three with diesel engines. The EV vehicles, each with a capacity of some 65 passengers, will be equitably assigned to routes throughout Arlington. Currently there are no EV buses in the APS fleet of 200. The vehicles slated for replacement each travel some 8,000 miles a year.” [Arlington County, Gov. Ralph Northam]
No PARK(ing) Day This Year — “PARK(ing) Day is an annual international event where the public collaborates to temporarily transform drab parking spaces into small parks… Due to continuing COVID-19 issues, Arlington County will not participate in 2021 PARK(ing) Day. We hope to welcome participants back in 2022.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
USS Arlington to Help in Haiti — “The San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24) departed Naval Station Norfolk to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to Haiti in support of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) led mission, Aug. 17.” [Navy]
Arrests in Ashton Heights Armed Robbery — ” The Arlington County Police Department’s Homicide/Robbery Unit is announcing the arrest of three suspects in an armed robbery that occurred during the early morning hours on Wednesday, August 18… At approximately 1:08 a.m., police were dispatched to the report of a robbery that had just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the two male victims and a witness were sitting at a bus stop in the 700 block of N. Randolph Street when the three suspects approached.” [ACPD]
Arlington Org Deals with Afghanistan Fallout — “The young women of Ascend were used to spending their days doing yoga, preparing for mountain climbing excursions and teaching women at mosques in Kabul how to read… After the Taliban swept through Afghanistan this week, retaking control after two decades as the Afghan government collapsed, most of Ascend’s participants have been sheltering at home in fear of reprisal. Some have destroyed documents that would associate them with the Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit group, and are pleading for assistance from its leadership to help them find refuge in other countries.” [Washington Post]
Arlington Bishop Talks About Trans Youth — “The topic of transgenderism is discussed routinely in the news, on television shows and in schools. This prevailing ideology — that a person can change his or her gender — is impacting Catholic families, too, said Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Arlington… Burbidge knows many will be criticized and ostracized for their belief that men and women cannot change their sex, but he asks the faithful to speak out anyway. ‘We cannot be silenced. The mandate to speak on this issue clearly and lovingly is greater than ever,’ he said.” [Catholic News Service]
Some Automatic Ped Signals Ending — “The County will be rolling back automatic pedestrian phase activations at several signalized intersections across Arlington. This measure was enacted in 2020 in response to low traffic volumes due to the COVID-19 pandemic and to minimize the need to press push buttons to trigger the pedestrian phase at a signal. This initiative was accompanied by ‘Do Not Push’ signage posted at various intersections.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
Mostly Back to Usual for School Buses — “APS will operate with normal bus capacity and follow normal procedures. Properly fitted masks are required for everyone on school buses and inside schools. There will be no temperature checks or verification of health screening completion upon arrival at the bus or school. Families will continue to receive the daily Qualtrics Symptom Screener as a reminder to complete health screening with their children prior to arrival at the bus, and to check temperatures daily. Please keep students home if they are sick.” [Arlington Public Schools]
Armed Robbery of Phone in Penrose — “The victim and suspect connected online regarding the sale of a cellphone. When the male victim arrived at the agreed upon location, he approached the two suspects and asked if he could see the cellphone prior to purchasing. Suspect One reached into his backpack, brandished a firearm and demanded the victim give him all of his money while Suspect Two brandished a knife. The victim gave the suspects an undisclosed amount of cash and the two fled the scene on bikes.” [ACPD]
AWLA Caring for Cat Hit By Car — “Last week, Gomez was hit by a car and needs eye removal surgery, a weight -gain diet and monitoring for neurological symptoms. You can make sure Gomez, and more pets like him, get the lifesaving care they need by donating.” [Twitter]
County Mulls Joining Sports Event Consortium — “Should Arlington government leaders wish to join an emerging regional consortium aimed at jointly promoting sports facilities in Northern Virginia, they’d be welcome to do so, officials with the new group said. In return, Arlington officials said they would be interested in being part of the effort down the road, if opportunities present themselves.” [Sun Gazette]
Free Cuts for Kids at Local Barbershop — “Moore’s Barber Shop in Arlington is part of the initiative, ‘Kuts For Kids,’ with Building Blocks Mentoring Program… giving kids free back-to-school haircuts.” [Fox 5]
Segment Draws Customer from a Distance — From barber James Moore: “Yesterday, @fox5dc @gwenfox5dc did a story at the barbershop. A man 70 miles away saw it and came in for a haircut today. My new friend Mike gave me tomatoes, peppers, apricot preserve and a FD patch for our ‘good deeds.’ It was so cool!” [Twitter]