Press Club

(Updated 1:10 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is applying to the state for more than $15.6 million in federal funds to tackle pandemic-era learning loss.

The school system says it would use the money to provide more specialized instruction, before- and after-school tutoring and expanded summer school offerings.

This money would add to the $18.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) III funds APS was allotted in April of this year.

“Every state received funds to distribute to school divisions as they saw fit,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said in a Nov. 16 School Board meeting. “We have heard from [the Virginia Department of Education] that school divisions, all of them, will receive some [money] if they apply.”

Applications were due last week, and the funds can be used through September 2024.

“We should know in January what funds APS may be awarded to support this work,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “We should know what grant funds we were awarded by the end of January.”

APS’s possible spending plan if it receives new grant funding (via APS)

Earlier this year, APS said that it would use the $18.9 million in ARPA funding it was allotted to balance the 2022 budget, which included paying for assessments, summer school, 12 reading and math coaches and a new Director of English Learners.

The bulk — $10.5 million — went to the new Virtual Learning Program, which had a bumpy start and today serves 630 children from diverse background. Of those students, 77% are Black, Hispanic or Asian, 60% are eligible for free- or reduced-price lunch, and 39% are English Learners, according to APS.

None of these expenses, however, increases instructional time for children, which is what parent advocacy group Arlington Parents for Education says the money should have been spent on. The organization formed last year to advocate for full-time, in-person learning while APS was remote, and now focuses on learning loss and ARPA spending.

The group had a lukewarm response to the additional instructional time outlined in the grant application.

“While any funds tied to additional instruction time are welcome, this application will likely be too little, too late. The state ESSER funding will not fund any new instruction until at least fall of 2022 and is expressly tied to providing expanded summer school, before and after school instruction, and tutoring,” APE said. “It is disappointing that APS must again (as with the reopening of schools in spring) be led by the state to do what it already has the resources to do and should already be doing, which is to provide more instructional time.”

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1812 N. Moore Street in Rosslyn.

Hacks of infrastructure are on the rise, according to Ballston-based cyber security company Fend, which says the newly passed infrastructure bill with “unprecedented” cybersecurity spending couldn’t come at a better time.

Within the last year, criminals have realized that the business of holding billion-dollar infrastructure systems for ransom is a lucrative one, says Fend’s CEO and Founder Colin Dunn. Companies and government agencies work together to rustle up the ransom sum and put a halt to the chaos these attacks cause, such as the long lines at the pump after the Colonial Pipeline hack.

“They’re out for the money,” Dunn said. “It wasn’t until this year that they realized, ‘Oh, you can hold a pipeline company for ransom and everyone’s going to be really angry.’ I think we’re going to see more of it. Attackers are seeing how weakly defended these major major assets are.”

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last week, includes nearly $2 billion for cybersecurity. About $1 billion will go to state, local, tribal and territorial governments to modernize their systems to deter cyber attacks; $100 million will support a cyber response and recovery fund accessible to private-sector owners of critical infrastructure; and $21 million will go toward staffing the Office of the National Cyber Director, according to a U.S. Senate press release.

Dunn is encouraged by the allocation, as well as similar allocations in the American Rescue Plan Act.

“This is really unprecedented,” Dunn said. “I think the administration has seen these attacks, like the one on Colonial Pipeline… and they’re taking it really seriously, knowing that’s a threat that our enemies and criminals can hold over us — hold billion-dollar assets for ransom.”

Colin Dunn of Fend at an expo this year (courtesy photo)

Having the conversation now — when new infrastructure is set to be built — means that cybersecurity can be embedded from the beginning, rather than retroactively applied after an attack, he says.

“So much of the infrastructure that we are seeing fall under attack… we’ve had to apply cybersecurity way after these facilities were brought online. Now we’re talking about doing that up front,” he said. “Baking that early in the conversation is a big step forward and will be good for our security overall.”

The bill could be a boon for Arlington, which is home not to numerous cybersecurity companies, but also to “big players in energy,” he says. It emphasizes cybersecurity workforce development, which could be good news for a state and region focused on creating a pipeline of tech workers.

“There’s pretty much zero unemployment in cybersecurity, and expanding that nationwide is going to be really important, and here, where it’s a stronghold,” he said.

The bill does include a preference for U.S.-made goods and services, such as Fend’s cybersecurity products, which Dunn says will be helpful for supporting American businesses rather than the great deal of overseas competition.

He said he hopes the spending helps protect the U.S.’s growing renewable energy facilities, such as the solar farms that Fend secures. Securing renewable energy has long been one of Dunn’s priorities.

“If we lose our renewables, we’ll go back to burning more fossil fuels,” he said.

In this new world of infrastructure hacks, Fend has gained traction and business, Dunn says.

Most recently, Fend — located at 4600 Fairfax Drive in Ballston — announced a partnership with Federal Resources Corporation, allowing Fend’s products to be sold to more government agencies, such as the Department of Defense. That’s fitting, he says, because government funding helped Fend get started.

“Between them and NASA, there’s lots of funding flowing, which helps make the product readily accessible,” he said.

Earlier this year, Fend completed some additional fundraising and attained its third patent, he added.

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Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti speaks during the Board’s Tuesday meeting on how to allocate federal funding (via Arlington County)

Pandemic recovery, childcare and criminal justice reform will be receiving millions in federal and county funds.

This week, the Arlington County Board voted to put federal COVID-19 relief funding and unspent county budget dollars toward these areas and other equity initiatives. Members also signaled the county’s commitment to these priorities by adopting them in their state legislative priority package.

On Tuesday, the Board allocated $29.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for pandemic response and local assistance programs.

It also put more than $6 million in surplus from the 2020-21 budget, or “closeout” funds, toward retention bonuses and compensation of county employees, support for restorative justice initiatives, review of body worn footage cameras and a new position in the Sheriff’s Office.

“Our American Rescue Plan and closeout funding allocations focus on our continued responsibility to keep our community healthy and safe, providing funding for testing, vaccine support and COVID response,” County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti said. “We also are investing in mental health care through the Crisis Intervention Center and childcare, a critical issue that the pandemic has revealed as more pressing than ever, as well as transportation and our employees.”

Since the plans were introduced in October, the county added some line items to the ARPA and “closeout” spending plans. Two of particular note include money to establish a childcare capital fund and to hire a quality assurance employee for the Arlington County jail.

The Board left $2.4 million ARPA funds unallocated to meet any unforeseen needs determined in 2022, as well as $14.1 million in unallocated close-out funds to address financial pressures in upcoming 2022-2023 budget.

Direct pandemic response — such as testing site and vaccine clinic support — received $9 million while local programs, ranging from housing assistance to the expansion of the Crisis Intervention Center for behavioral health services, received $20.5 million.

New to the ARPA spending plan is $5 million to develop affordable childcare options, spearheaded by childcare champion and Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol.

“ARPA federal guidelines highlight some of the uses for it: they include investment in new or expanded learning services, support for pandemic-impacted small businesses and support to disproportionately impacted populations and communities. One thing at the center of those three circles of the Venn diagram is childcare,” she said during the Board meeting on Tuesday. “This has emerged as one of the top needs during the pandemic.”

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol speaks about childcare during the Tuesday meeting (via Arlington County)

Arlington has increased the number of available childcare slots, but they are not affordable to those making 50% or less of the Area Median Income, she said.

The county would put the $5 million toward a new childcare capital fund to be accessed by providers and developers who agree to set aside some affordable spots on an ongoing basis in exchange for a one-time infusion of dollars.

The result would be permanently discounted childcare spots created at the time a provider signs a long-term lease or a developer receives approval to build a childcare center, she said.

Before Tuesday night, the Board had previously allocated $2 million in ARPA funds for small business support and $3.8 million for restoring libraries, community centers and other important community facing programs.

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County Manager Mark Schwartz is proposing to use leftover money from the most recent fiscal year and federal COVID-19 relief for priorities such as employee bonuses and investments in disadvantaged communities.

He presented his plans to the Arlington County Board Tuesday night.

The county has $20.5 million in unspent, unencumbered “closeout” funds from the 2020-2021 fiscal year, which ended in July. Arlington also has about $17 million in unspent American Rescue Plan Act funding and $23 million more in expected funds for which to plan.

Some of the budget surplus will go toward employee salary adjustments and retention bonuses, while the federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) will support new initiatives, some of which are one-time and some that will eventually switch to ongoing local funding.

In years past, some have scrutinized Arlington’s surplus, or “closeout” funds, as being excessive — a product of conservative budgeting that enables a de facto slush fund, divvied up outside of the normal budget process, at the end of most fiscal years. Critics have also questioned the county’s spending plans for allocating most of the surplus, rather than setting it aside to avoid tax increases.

In the 2019 budget, Schwartz noted that he had made progress on whittling down surplus funds from $21.8 million in 2015 to $11 million in 2017. It ticked back up in 2018 to $21.9 million and reached $23.2 million in 2019, falling slightly to $22.4 million in 2020.

Schwartz attributes the 2021 surplus to the moving target of planning during a pandemic: over-budgeting healthcare costs and departmental operations, which slowed down due to COVID-19, while underestimating tax revenue.

And rather than allocate most of it, this year, he’s proposing to put about $16.6 million toward the 2023 budget to address priorities such as housing and restorative justice.

He will spend nearly $2 million in retention bonuses for police and emergency services health employees, and $174,000 to match state funding for bonuses for the Sheriff’s Office. On Tuesday, the County Board changed the funding source from ARPA funding to the surplus, county spokeswoman Erika Moore said.

The retention bonuses respond to reports of police and clinicians quitting their county jobs over grueling overtime and a demanding mental health crisis response. The situation worsened over the summer when the state closed five of its eight psychiatric hospitals, which were suffering from understaffing and becoming dangerous places to work. Department leaders say employees leave for more competitive, less taxing private-sector roles, such as security jobs at Amazon and private-practice clinical work.

“I appreciate the County Board taking action tonight to allocate retention bonuses, which will include a $3,500 one-time payment for police and emergency services health employees,” Schwartz said in a county press release. “It has been extremely difficult to retain and hire qualified staff for these positions at a time when demand for services is exceptionally high with extreme risk to our community if left unfilled.

Now, the plan will go to the public for review. The Board will hold a hearing on the spending plan at its Nov. 13 meeting, followed by a vote.

In addition to the $20.5 million, the county ended the year with $284.9 million in unspent, allocated money in its coffers. The rest of the fund balance breaks down as follows:

The county’s allocation plan for the fund balance (via Arlington County)

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Morning Notes

UPS trucks overloaded with packages, at the Pentagon Row shopping center

More Metro Delays — A disabled train outside of the Farragut West Metro station produced big delays for those heading into Virginia via the Orange, Silver and Blue lines this morning. [Twitter]

Local Credit Card Holiday Spending — Arlington residents are charging an average of $718.43 on credit cards for holiday gifts this year, estimates the website Nerd Wallet. While that seems like a high number, collectively those in Arlington buying holiday gifts without using a credit card are missing out on $138,846.46 in rewards points, the website says. [Nerd Wallet]

Arlington Still Tops for Va. Tourism — Arlington remains the top tourism destination in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The county attracts more than 6 million people who spend nearly $3 billion here and generate some $81 million in local taxes annually. The tourism industry accounts for about 25,000 jobs in Arlington. [Arlington County]

County Unveils New Online Calendar — Arlington County has rolled out Arlington Today, a new and improved calendar of local events. First up this morning on the calendar: a performance by The Rocking Chairs, the “in-house band” of the Lee Community and Senior Center. [Twitter]

Local Startup Raises $16 Million — Want to start a company in Arlington that can raise big bucks? Do so in the cybersecurity field. Data security software maker ThreatConnect, which recently moved from Shirlington to the Ballston area, has raised $16 million in a new round of funding. [DC Inno]

Arlington Recognized as Bike Friendly Community — Arlington has been named a Silver-level “Bicycle Friendly Community” for the third time since 2007. We’re one of 75 communities in the U.S. to achieve that rating. [Arlington County]

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Morning Notes

Backyard BBQ cookout in Arlington (Flickr pool photo by thekidfromcrumlin)

Kudla Out After Four-Set Loss — Arlington resident Denis Kudla, 22, capped his impressive performance at Wimbledon with a four-set loss to reigning U.S. Open champ Marin Cilic in the Round of 16 yesterday afternoon. Kudla, who turned tennis pro at the age of 16, was the last remaining American man in the tournament. [Fox Sports, Twitter]

Wellington Sells for $167 Million — The Wellington apartment complex on Columbia Pike has sold for $167 million. The 711 unit complex is 97 percent occupied. It was purchased by Washington REIT. [MultifamilyBiz]

Arlington Park Spending Near Top — Arlington County spends $249 per resident on parks, the third highest per capita park spending figure in the country, among the nation’s 100 most populous areas. Washington, D.C. ranked first, spending $346 per resident. Some of Arlington’s park spending is now going toward >$1 million playgrounds. [Washington Post, Trust for Public Land]

Flickr pool photo by thekidfromcrumlin

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The six candidates for County Board each struck a note of fiscal conservatism at local civic association debates this week.

Even as Arlington has avoided the worst of the stagnant economy, fears about the impact of federal spending cuts on Arlington’s tax base, combined with the reality of a burgeoning school population, has ushered in a slate of candidates largely devoid of ideas for sweeping new county initiatives. Instead, candidates are talking about prioritizing spending and, perhaps, pulling back on big ticket items like the struggling Artisphere cultural center and the planned Columbia Pike streetcar and Long Bridge Park aquatics center.

Iraq veteran and West Point graduate Terron Sims was perhaps the most blunt of the five Democrats in race when it came to spending.

“We do need to prioritize,” Sims said. “We spend money as though it’s coming out of trees… Though we have the money, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to spend the money.”

“I’m disturbed at the trolley’s cost,” Sims said of the Pike streetcar’s $250 million price tag. “As for the Artisphere, it’s a failed investment, or at least it appears to be at this time.”

Peter Fallon, an Arlington County Planning Commission, was also candid about his views on spending — particularly when it comes to the streetcar.

“Let’s face it, we need to do a much better job of deciding what we need versus what we want and what we can have,” Fallon said. “I am certainly very pro-transit… however, I am not convinced that $250 million for a five mile rail in the ground is necessarily the way to go.

“If I’m on the County Board, I’m not going to sign off on it until I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do for all of Arlington, and I have not seen that analysis yet,” Fallon added. “There are cheaper ways to enhance traffic and transit throughout Arlington County.”

School Board member Libby Garvey said that some big ticket items sound good in theory, but must be put in perspective when it comes to other needs.

“I think the streetcar sounds like a great project, I think the [proposed Long Bridge Park] aquatics center sounds like a great project, the Artisphere had really good possibilities — they all sound great,” she said. “Meanwhile, our schools are busting at the seams, our police force has not had an increase in 10 years. There are a lot of issues we are facing, and the news is we cannot do it all — or we cannot do it all right now.”

“We need a strategic plan to pick out what our priorities are and decide what we’re going to do first,” Garvey continued. “So if we put money into an aquatics center but we don’t build a school, we’re saying that the aquatics center is more important than a school. Our budget statements are value statements.”

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The Washington Area Boards of Education recently published the results of its annual survey of local schools. The survey revealed that Arlington is still spending the most money per pupil of any D.C. area school system.

Arlington spent $18,047 per pupil in Financial Year 2012, a 4.2 percent increase over the $17,322 per pupil spent in FY 2011. The latest spending figure is still 2.8 percent lower than the $18,569 per pupil spent in FY 2010, however.

Aside from Arlington, Alexandria was the next-highest spender in the region, with $17,618 per pupil spent in FY 2012. That compares to $16,309 per pupil in Falls Church, $14,776 in Montgomery County, $12,820 in Fairfax County, $11,014 in Loudoun County, $9,852 in Prince William County and $9,176 in Prince George’s County.

The most recent news article on D.C. Public Schools spending suggests a cost of $16,408 per pupil.

The Arlington County Taxpayers Association, a persistent critic of local elected officials, had this to say about the spending increase in Arlington:

So, the Arlington School Board hit Arlington taxpayers with a “twofer” — highest cost per pupil and the largest increase from FY 2011 to FY 2012. And imagine, the School Board candidate had no opposition in yesterday’s elections. Can things get any better for Arlington County’s elected worthies?

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Morning Notes

Arlington Spends Big on Travel — Arlington spends more on travel per household than any other large American city, according to a report on Bundle.com. The average Arlington household spent $3,534 on travel last year, according to the report. That’s more than twice the national average. Arlington is also tops for combined travel and leisure spending, which includes entertainment, cable and satellite expenses, spending an average of $5,615 per household per year.

Feds Search Home of Alleged Arlington Office Thief — Authorities may be close to bringing charges against a woman thought to be responsible for thefts of purses and wallets from secured government offices. The Washington Examiner reports that investigators believe the woman stole items from a senior official at the U.S. Marshals Service headquarters in Arlington, an employee at the U.S. State Department in Arlington, and a Pentagon employee in Arlington.

School Board Race Isn’t Much of One So Far — School board member Sally Baird is facing two challengers in her bid for reelection this year. But so far the race isn’t exactly the barnburner of campaigns past. Baird has raised a paltry $3,653 so far, and one of her opponents, Miriam Gennari, has filed papers indicating that she doesn’t plan on raising significant cash, according to the Sun Gazette.

Flickr pool photo by Amberture.

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Morning Notes

Metro Fares Going Up This Morning — Metrorail riders will start paying an extra 20 cents during this morning’s rush hour. Starting today, the peak base fare is increasing from $1.75 to $1.95. On Sunday, riders started paying $1.60 for the off-peak base fare, up from $1.45. Metrobus fares have also increased. More from Fox 5.

Pentagon Shooting Heroes Honored — The Pentagon police officers who stopped the Pentagon Metro Station shooter received the Medal of Valor from the Department of Defense on Friday. Officers Marvin Carraway, Jr. and Jeffery Amos, who were shot by 36-year-old John Patrick Bedell in the attack, were honored alongside officers Dexter Jones and Colin Richards, who also who helped to stop Bedell from entering the Pentagon on the night of March 4. More from WUSA 9.

Big Spenders, Big Collectors — Arlington County collects more per resident and spends more per resident than any other locality in Virginia, the Washington Examiner reports. On average, Arlington collects $4,240 per person and spends $4,209 per person. On a per capita basis, Arlington outspends every other Virginia locality on fire and rescue services, parks and recreation, and social services.

Marine Charged With Rape — A Marine charged in the abduction of an Arlington woman has been formally charged in the abduction and rape of another. Jorge “George” Torrez, 21, has been the prime suspect in the February 27 crime, but is only now being charged after detectives were able to link him to the case. Torrez, who was based at Fort Myer-Henderson Hall, now faces 14 charges including abduction with intent to defile, forcible sodomy, and the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Flickr pool photo by Chris Rief.

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Arlington spends more per capita on welfare and social services than neighbors Alexandria and Fairfax County. In fact, Arlington spends $455 for every resident in the county, nearly twice the spending of Fairfax.

“Considering the emphasis that the County Board has placed on social services, it’s not all that surprising that this category would be one of the highest per-capita spending items in Arlington,” Budget Director Richard Stevenson told the Arlington Connection’s Michael Lee Pope.

The county spends more on welfare and social services than on law enforcement. The welfare expenditures are greater than Arlington’s spending on parks, libraries, courts, sanitation and building maintenance combined. The only individual category that tops welfare is education, at $1,814 per capita. Taken as a whole, law enforcement and fire and rescue account for $588 spending per capita.

“I think we’re right where we need to be” in terms of budget priorities, County Board chairman Jay Fisette told the Connection.

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