Press Club
The Arlington School Board during its April 7, 2022 meeting (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools is adding funding to its proposed budget to fund positions supporting student mental health and safety.

The revised budget includes about $800,000 to add the equivalent of 5.5 full-time school safety coordinators and restore four psychologist and social worker positions, which were initially cut due to lower enrollment projections.

“I’m really glad to see our budget is paying attention to mental health, which we know is a significant concern locally and nationally,” School Board member Mary Kadera said during the School Board meeting Thursday night.

Members of the School Board unanimously approved several changes to the proposed budget for the 2022-23 fiscal year, but the budget is not yet set in stone — final approvals are slated for May.

The additional safety and mental health expenses come as many schools — particularly the middle schools — are seeing an uptick in fights and instances of students either bringing, or threatening to bring, weapons to school, as ARLnow previously reported. School administrators say they are stepping up their focus on social-emotional learning in response.

Last week week, Arlington police investigated text messages referencing potential violence at Swanson and Dorothy Hamm middle schools, but concluded there was no active or ongoing threat, Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. The week before last, a Swanson student brought a taser to school, according to an email to families.

Additionally, in response to students filming peers in the restroom, teachers have started monitoring bathrooms and confiscating students’ phones during bathroom breaks, Fox 5 reported.

Responding to concerns from Swanson staff and parents, administrators said in a School Talk email, provided to ARLnow, that there will be increased monitoring, more mental health and social-emotional learning and improved communication with families and staff when incidents arise.

This year, APS has leaned on specialized school safety staff after removing sworn ACPD School Resource Officers from its buildings last summer.

None of the newly budgeted “school safety coordinators” will go to Swanson, but they will go to Gunston Middle School, the Langston High School Continuation Program and New Directions programs, and the newly renovated education center building that will serve Washington-Liberty High School. There will also be two substitutes.

The coordinators add to an existing 28.5 full-time-equivalent school safety staff members, who once were called “security resource assistants.” APS aims to have at least one coordinator per middle and high school building, with an additional coordinator per 500 students beyond that. Roaming coordinators support multiple elementary schools.

These staff monitor hallways, watch for student behavior during arrival and dismissal and during night time events and activities, ensure searches of students are performed correctly and conduct drills, Director of Safety, Security, Risk and Emergency Management Zach Pope said during a budget work session last month.

They are required to complete more than 60 hours of training, including compulsory minimum training through the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, schools spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow.

“APS has been engaging in conversations since 2018 with Arlington County public safety agencies about the best way to adjust these positions and provide maximum level support to the safety, security and wellbeing of our communities,” he said.

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Superintendent Francisco Durán (via APS)

For the first time in four years, Arlington Public Schools presented a balanced budget for its upcoming fiscal year.

Last night (Thursday) Superintendent Francisco Durán told the School Board his proposed $746.1 million operating budget for July 2022 to June 2023 invests heavily in students with disabilities, English-language learners and other students who are struggling, while ensuring base salaries and raises for staff that are competitive and sustainable.

His proposed budget, with a 6.4% bump in spending compared to the current fiscal year, includes $51 million in new investments and about 82 new positions. These range from assistants, behavioral specialists and therapists for students with disabilities to reading and math coaches at Title 1 schools and buildings with more than 650 students.

School Board members received his budget proposal — and the big, black “zero shortfall” noted — with a great deal of optimism.

“Well, isn’t this refreshing compared to the other budgeting cycles we’ve been through,” School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “As a whole, I think we’re in a different and more optimistic position than we have been in recent years.”

Between 2018 and this year, the school system proposed budgets with deficits and multiple tiers of optional cuts to consider.

The economic downturn caused by the pandemic exacerbated this trend — and APS walked into the 2023 planning process with a predicted $69 million deficit, driven largely by the need to use $40 million in one-time funding to balance the 2022 budget.

When December and January rolled around, APS heard promising news: Arlington County generated an additional $48.8 million for schools and former Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget provided almost $15 million in additional funding.

These numbers exceeded APS’s forecasts by $46.3 million and $12.8 million, respectively.

“We’re in a good place already,” Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said. “We should give a shout-out to our County Board friends who did a really nice job in bringing in the revenues this year, which is very helpful in terms of our optimism this year, for sure.”

Though revenue increases help cover most of the additional spending, APS would also lean on $26 million in reserves that the School Board has built up over many years. Durán says the budget uses reserves strategically and leaves $25 million untouched.

How APS has used reserves (via APS)

“We’re definitely supporting this budget with reserves,” Kanninen said. “It’s something we have to deal with over time to make sure we can maintain sustainability.”

The largest chunk, $16.7 million, comes from dedicated compensation reserves that pays for wage and salary increases as well as making staff whole for missed raises. In total, APS would spend an additional $34 million on staff compensation in Durán’s budget.

APS — by its own admission in the 2023 budget — says it needs to work on reducing its dependence on reserves and one-time funds when balancing budgets over the next three years. Otherwise, these reserve buckets will be fully depleted by the 2024 and 2025 fiscal years.

APS compensation study recommendations, which will cost $33.5 million (via APS)

“There is an increasing shortfall in FY 2024 through FY 2026 if the forecast is based on APS’s growing expenditure needs rather than balanced budgets each year,” the budget document says.

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Morning Notes

Raindrops on a tree branch in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Beyer’s Statement on Ukraine — From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) last night: “Praying for the Ukrainian people tonight. America stands with Ukraine.” [Twitter]

HQ2 Phase 1 to Feature 14 Retailers — “JBG Smith also revealed Tuesday that it has identified and executed leases with 14 retailers set to open by the end of 2023 at Metropolitan Park, though it didn’t identify those brands. That’s a jump from what the real estate company had announced in November during a tour of the HQ2 site, at that time noting plans for between seven to 12 retailers on the ground floor. Two of those retailers have been announced: District Dogs and Rāko Coffee Roasters.” [Washington Business Journal]

More Details on HS at HQ2 Phase 2 — “During a recent community meeting about the project, county staff said Amazon will provide 26,500 square feet of space for the school in one of its HQ2 office buildings at the PenPlace site. The plan calls for Amazon to construct the school’s space and to provide a rent-free lease to the county for a minimum of 30 years… ‘We’re being told it will be the fall of 2026,’ Thompson said when asked when Arlington Community High School would officially make the move to HQ2.” [WJLA]

Local James Beard Nominees — Two chefs with Arlington restaurants have been nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. Peter Chang, of the eponymous restaurant in the Lee-Harrison shopping center, has been nominated for a national award for Outstanding Chef. Ruthie’s All-Day proprietor Matt Hill, meanwhile, has been nominated in the category of Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. [Eater, Washington Business Journal]

December Death Investigation Update — “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the manner of both deaths as accidental with cause being narcotics-related. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available.” [Twitter, ACPD]

County Employee Vax Deadline Approaching — “County Manager Mark Schwartz said the number of employees who neither have gotten vaccinated, nor won an exemption, is down to a miniscule number (six, he said on Feb. 15). Ninety-six percent of permanent government employees have met the vaccination mandate, with 135 more receiving accommodations required under federal law.” [Sun Gazette]

Mask Guidance from APS Superintendent — “As communicated last week, families will be able to opt their students out of wearing a mask in school beginning next Tuesday, March 1, in accordance with the recently passed Virginia law, Senate Bill 739. As this new law takes effect, I ask everyone to practice patience and understanding for others with respect to mask choice. We are one community, unified by our shared commitment to student success, health and well-being.” [Arlington Public Schools]

It’s Thursday — Cloudy with a chance of sleet today. A chance of rain and snow in the morning, then rain likely in the afternoon. Little or no accumulation of frozen precipitation. A slight chance of sleet in the evening, plus rain and patchy fog. High of 44 and low of 32. Sunrise at 6:49 am and sunset at 5:57 pm. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated at 12:45 p.m.) Superintendent Francisco Durán says Arlington Public Schools should hit the “pause” button on its Virtual Learning Program for next school year.

He’ll deliver this evaluation to the School Board during its meeting tonight (Thursday).

“The recommendation is to pause the program for next school year, as we take the time necessary to build a comprehensive virtual option program that will be sustainable and serve the needs of students who thrive in the virtual setting, for the long term,” APS Chief of School Support Kimberley Graves said in an email to families sent yesterday (Wednesday).

APS set aside $10.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds to create an in-house virtual option last summer for families with health and safety concerns about in-person learning as well as those waiting for the vaccine and those whose kids preferred online school.

Today, the VLP serves some 420 students, mostly children of color and many of whom have a disability, are economically disadvantaged students or are English-learning.

It got off to a rocky start due to severe staff shortages, and was plagued by issues related to communication, leadership turnover, teacher treatment and a lack of needed resources. By December, with enrollment dropping, rumors swirled that the program could come to an end — despite a mid-year update on the effort to aright it. Last month, administrators again reported progress, but did not address the speculation about the VLP’s future.

The proposed pause depends on a School Board vote scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 17. APS will hold a virtual town hall this month to address families’ questions and concerns, and staff will help students transition back to their home schools.

But APS is signaling that it’s open to running a virtual program long term. Graves said families will have opportunities to join a task force led by VLP Principal Danielle Harrell to develop a framework for a future virtual option.

Meanwhile, students may continue with virtual instruction through the state’s online learning platform, Virtual Virginia, if they or a family member has a medical condition that complicates going to school every day. APS staff will supplement whatever Virtual Virginia courses don’t cover and will support students during the transfer to their home schools.

“The success and well-being of your student(s) through the remainder of this school year, and throughout the transition back to in-person school at their school of record for the 2022-23 school year, are our priority and are the priority of our administrators and staff,” Graves said.

A special-education teacher told ARLnow that VLP staff were told they would be given priority for jobs within APS. She’s skeptical that a scheduled job fair for VLP staff will work for most teachers’ schedules, however.

A second grade teacher told ARLnow she feels betrayed by the decision.

“I’ve worked tirelessly over nights, weekends, and holidays to ensure my students have the best learning experience,” she said in an email. “Teachers came together to fight for this program every day, while having to welcome in new students on a consistent basis.”

She said teachers organized virtual events, field trips and after-school programs, spent hours creating content and bought their own programs, subscriptions and technology “so that our students never felt the inequities that were inevitably placed on them.”

“When there were staff shortages, we covered each other without extra pay. We skipped our personal lunch to eat with our students, missed prep periods, and took over classes without subs day in and day out to ensure our students were provided the best or nothing,” she said. “This is devastating to every individual who fought for VLP and worked hard to bring the program to fruition. It is a sad evening for us all.”

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You’ve probably seen the headlines about a youth trend called “Devious Licks” that challenged students to steal or damage items at school and post video of the act on TikTok.

Now Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán is warning parents about additional challenges that encourage behavior that could result in the school system seeking police intervention.

Durán said in an email to parents yesterday evening that the theft challenge in September “affected APS schools at every level – elementary through high school.” TikTok banned the trend on Sept. 15.

“We are seeking your help in reminding students of the consequences and serious nature of these challenges,” Durán wrote.

A statement from the superintendent on Friday linked to a WTOP report about additional monthly challenges, which encourage  “destructive and harmful acts at school.”

From WTOP:

  • October: Smack a staff member on the backside.
  • November: Kiss your friend’s girlfriend at school.
  • December: Deck the halls and show your b****.
  • January: Jab a breast.
  • February: Mess up school signs.
  • March: Make a mess in the courtyard or cafeteria.
  • April: Grab some “eggs” (another theft challenge).
  • May: Ditch Day.
  • June: Flip off the front office.

“Any involvement including filming, assisting, and sharing videos could lead to school consequences,” Durán wrote. “Depending on the severity, engaging in the behaviors listed above could lead to law enforcement involvement.”

As described, the above challenges could rise to the level of criminal vandalism, indecent exposure or even sexual battery and assault.

This summer the Arlington School Board voted to remove sworn School Resource Officers from school grounds. The Arlington County Police Department and APS are now working on a new agreement for a “Youth Outreach Unit” that would “have meaningful conversations, answer questions, and build relationships.”

The Friday letter from the superintendent, encouraging parental vigilance, is below.

It has come to our attention that there is a list of social media challenges on TikTok similar to the most recent “Devious Licks” TikTok Challenge that encouraged kids to vandalize and steal random objects from their schools and post them in videos.

September’s challenge to vandalize bathrooms affected several APS schools, so we are sharing the list of upcoming challenges for your awareness and support. We ask that parents and guardians speak to your students about the serious nature of these challenges and help educate them that these are not appropriate for school or in the community.

These challenges could be disruptive and harmful to our school community and present a safety concern. Additionally, any involvement including filming, assisting, and sharing videos could lead to school consequences. Students are encouraged to contact their administrator if they are aware or witness any wrongdoing or harm against students, staff or property. Depending on the severity, engaging in the behaviors listed above could lead to law enforcement involvement.

The safety and security of our students, both physical and emotional, is our priority as we continue to create a learning environment that cultivates a culture of kindness, mutual respect, inclusivity and affirmation for our students and staff.

Thank you for your help as we all work together to be vigilant about our students’ online presence.

Sincerely,
Dr. Francisco Durán
Superintendent

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Arlington Public Schools administrators are reiterating their commitment to getting more students into hybrid instruction this semester and five-day in-person instruction this summer and fall.

That’s unlikely to appease parents who want a quicker return to full-time in-school learning, however.

As announced last week, APS will be inviting more children — whose families initially opted out of in-person school in the fall and now want to return — to come to school twice a week in the hybrid model of instruction, as space allows on a school-by-school basis.

The push to incorporate more students responds to a change in social-distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which now allows for three feet of distance between students in classrooms, though six feet is still recommended between adults and adults and students.

Nearby school systems are using the new guidance to add days of face-to-face instruction to the school week. Next Tuesday, Loudoun County and Fairfax County public schools will offer four days of in-person learning. This applies to all students in hybrid learning in LCPS and to identified students experiencing the greatest learning challenges in FCPS. (The Fairfax County plan has faced some criticism.)

Most Falls Church students, meanwhile, are now back in classrooms full time.

“We are absolutely doing that in the fall,” Superintendent Francisco Durán assured Arlington School Board members during their meeting last week. “We are headed to five days in-person in the fall. All of our planning now until then will be dedicated to that. That will be the sole plan we are working on.”

A number of parents who spoke at last week’s School Board meeting called for more days of in-person instruction this spring. In some cases, they also called for the resignation of Durán and certain School Board members.

“COVID-19 shows that the problem in Arlington is leadership is lacking,” said Paul Brickley. “The board must pursue the removal of the superintendent and the chief of staff for cause… Should the board not act, Arlington parents who care about the state of public education should immediately pursue a recall petition for [the board members] here since the start of the pandemic began. Should either course prove unworkable, parents should take to the streets using available peaceful means.”

While many Arlington students are in two day per week in-person learning, those in countywide special education programs report to schools four days a week. Between 41% and 51% of students, on the other hand, are still fully virtual.

The rates of opting for distance learning are higher among Arlington’s more vulnerable populations, Durán noted.

“I’ve heard from some principals as they’ve reached out to families that they still want to remain in distance learning,” he said. “We know that our English-learner population — particularly our Latino population — has had more exposure to the coronavirus and that particular community does not feel safe coming back to school.”

Overall, English learners and economically disadvantaged students are more likely to be in full distance learning than the overall APS student population, according to a snapshot of enrollment by instructional model, shown below.

At one school — Carlin Springs Elementary School — Durán said 80% of families are choosing to remain in distance learning.

“It’s really important to understand the nuance that there are significant variances among zip codes in comfort with coming back into in-person learning,” School Board Member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “A lot of students are working to support their families or are taking care of younger siblings during the day and are just experiencing a different reality than some of our other students are experiencing.”

Gabriela Uro, who is part of an association of Latino APS parents, said the network of 600 Latino families she speaks with are very concerned about returning to school. Many parents worry their children could bring home the virus and infect a working family member, making it harder to put food on the table and pay rent.

More than 80% of people who responded to a Spanish-language survey her group sent out said their No. 1 concern with return-to-school is getting sick, with a number concerned about whether staff and students would comply with safety strategies.

“The level of anxiety was palpable,” she said.

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Some Arlington School Board members are putting pressure on administrators to get more students inside school buildings more often.

Arlington Public Schools has finished a month-long process of phasing students into school buildings for a hybrid, two-day-per-week model of in-person learning. Currently, about 35% of students are still fully virtual, and some of them are on waitlists for in-school instruction.

Some School Board members told Superintendent Francisco Durán on Thursday that they want more students in classrooms, as well as more than two days a week of in-person instruction, in light of new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC halved its social-distancing guidelines from six feet to three feet among students in classrooms.

Durán previously said that APS would conclude the spring semester in the hybrid model.

In response to the new guidance, Durán told School Board members that APS will admit some waitlisted students into buildings, prioritizing those learning English, receiving special education services, or at risk of failing grades 8 and 12.

Citing logistical and instructional hurdles, however, APS will not be increasing the number of days students can be in-person based on the new guidance, he said. It will use the guidance to work toward five days of in-person instruction for summer school and the fall, he said.

“I have received many calls over the past week — since the beginning of the guidance we received — asking us to revise our model and provide four to five days of in-person instruction,” Durán said. “I certainly understand those calls and the disappointment many people are feeling in wanting to get back more days in-person.”

Under the new guidance, buses could transport up to 22 students, or one in every row, where it currently seats 11 students, one every other row. Inside classrooms, every classroom could theoretically increase the size from 12 to 14 students. Staff said such changes would require redrawing bus routes for the entire school system and true capacity would vary by classroom and school building.

Doing so would take staff away from the task of carrying out the hybrid model that APS just finished rolling out, he said.

“This change is not a simple change that can just happen quickly when you think of all the things that need to happen,” he said. “Planning for five days in the summer and fall is something is something that we will be doing.”

Board Vice-Chair Barbara Kanninen said Thursday’s presentation tells the community that APS is coming up with excuses not to do something hard.

“When we let students into school, we certainly don’t let them say, ‘This is hard,'” she said. “We start asking them to get started with something — to try something. I believe that our staff does have a can-do spirit but I’m not hearing it this evening.”

She and Reid Goldstein said by the next meeting, they want to see a new plan that gets more students in-person for more days.

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Morning Notes

Arlington Startup Founder Going to Prison — “An Arlington start-up that promised to help people root out schemes and scams in their own lives was, nearly from the start, a cash cow for the founder’s extravagant lifestyle, start-up CEO Daniel Boice acknowledged in Alexandria federal court Friday… ‘It would be difficult to describe the havoc you created by your fraudulent actions,’ Judge T.S. Ellis III said before sentencing Boice to eight years in prison. ‘It’s an egregious fraud.'” [Washington Post, Dept. of Justice]

Bad Crash on GW Parkway — “A car split in half after crashing into a tree near the First Overlook [of the] George Washington Memorial Parkway Sunday morning, U.S. Park Police confirms. The driver of the car was the only one in the vehicle and was immediately taken to a nearby hospital. U.S. Park Police say their injuries are non-life-threatening.” [WUSA 9, Twitter, Twitter]

Pro-Reopening Parents Blast APS Superintendent — “During the Monitoring Report from Dr. Durán to the School Board, we heard that due to “monumental logistical challenges,” APS will remain hybrid for the remainder of this academic year… Arlington Parents for Education urges the School Board to vote on an urgent and rapid return to school plan when they meet again next — or, if not, propose a vote of no confidence in Dr. Durán for failing to deliver such a plan.” [Press Release]

Group Wants to Save Whitlow’s Building — “As you have seen in the news, Whitlow’s is planning to relocate due to being unable to renegotiate their lease at 2854 Wilson Blvd. However, the building is for sale and presents an investment opportunity and chance to keep Whitlows at its historic location. This form is simply to gauge interest in being part of a group to purchase the building, and is not a commitment to forming any business arrangement, putting up capital, or the like.” [Google Forms, Twitter]

Early Voting Locations for Primary Set — “Members of the Arlington Electoral Board on March 25 approved plans for two satellite-early-voting centers to be used in the runup to the June 8 Democratic primary. Walter Reed and Madison community centers previously had been designated as the locations for early voting by the County Board. The March 25 action set days and hours they will be in operation, although refinements could still be made.” [Sun Gazette]

Local Gov. Candidate Wants to Nix Income Tax — “Could Virginia’s next governor be from Arlington? It’s a longshot, perhaps, but there’s at least one candidate in the running. Arlingtonian Peter Doran on March 24 made his pitch to the Arlington County Republican Committee, saying new thinking is needed if the GOP is to end its drought in statewide elections… Doran pitched the idea of eliminating Virginia’s state income tax.” [Sun Gazette]

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(Updated 4/5/21) Arlington Public Schools is preparing to release more information on its plans for getting students into classrooms during the current semester.

During the School Board meeting this Thursday, Superintendent Francisco Durán is slated to address updated K-12 school guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which was released on Friday.

“APS is reviewing the guidance to determine how the changes may impact our ability to serve additional students in person and improve transportation in the current school year,” Durán said in a School Talk email on Friday. “An update will be provided at the March 25 School Board meeting.”

The CDC now recommends that, with universal masking, students should maintain a distance of at least 3 feet in classrooms, down from the previous guidance of 6 feet. The change reflects “the latest science on physical distance between students in classrooms,” according to the CDC.

There are some exceptions: Adults should remain 6 feet apart from each other and students, and 6 feet should be enforced in common areas such as auditoriums, lobbies, the cafeteria during meals, and any time masking would hamper breathing, such as choir or band practice, sports practices and P.E. classes.

APS is currently enforcing 6 feet for children and adults who are learning in-person twice a week in a hybrid model. As of March 11, Durán said about 64% of students are in-person. The rest have either opted to stay virtual or are on waitlists pending more space. APS recently said it would finish the semester in the hybrid model current, before returning to five-day-per-week in-person learning in the fall.

If APS shortened the social-distancing minimum to 3 feet, waitlisted students should be able to get back into classrooms, School Board candidates Mary Kadera and Miranda Turner tell ARLnow.

“I am encouraged that the CDC’s updated guidelines may provide the opportunity for students who are currently on wait lists to return to school,” Kadera said.

Turner agreed, saying that the new guidance “hopefully will be an impetus for APS to try and get more students in buildings this school year.”

Both candidates, who are seeking the Democratic endorsement in the School Board race, are awaiting more information from APS this Thursday.

“While we want to open our schools to all students who wish to return, we also have to remember what CDC guidance hasn’t yet changed, such as the requirement of 6 feet of distance between adults and students and 6 feet of distance in common areas, so I am interested to learn the details from Dr. Duran at this Thursday’s School Board meeting,” Kadera said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) has joined the chorus of people calling for returning more students to in-person learning this semester, which ends in June.

“I respectfully request that APS continuously review CDC revised guidance, and apply it to APS’s operational implementation for the current school year,” he said in a letter to Durán last week.

Beyer added that APS will receive $19.4 million from the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act to put toward reopening. The money is earmarked for items such as funding additional staff, implementing new testing protocols and supporting special-education programs as well as programs targeting unfinished instruction and social-emotional needs, he said.

On Friday, the pro-reopening group Arlington Parents for Education called on Durán to immediately apply the revised CDC recommendations. The group said the change would expand the current 11-student cap for buses, which it called “a misguided decision directly responsible for keeping kids out of school who want to be there.”

Relying on 6 feet of distance, it said, will “prevent Arlington’s students from receiving more than just two days of in-person instruction a week and from beginning the process of recovering academically, mentally, and socially, for the rest of the school year.:

Not everyone thinks a further reopening is the right move at the moment, however.

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(Updated at 11:30 a.m.) For his first budget as Superintendent of Arlington Public Schools, Francisco Durán said he is proposing a conservative budget “that reflects our most urgent needs.”

The 2022 budget for APS, which he presented to members of the School Board on Thursday, comes to $704.4 million in expenditures and $661.9 million in revenue. APS, which has expected budget gaps in years past, is expecting a $42.5 million shortfall for its next fiscal year.

“We are facing very unique challenges as our school division works through the pandemic and what is to come,” Durán said. “Over the past year, we have seen the impact that this has had on our local economy and significant losses in revenue in Arlington.”

The county will be transferring $529.7 million to APS, which is $5.1 million higher than the 2021 fiscal year, according to a county budget presentation document. County Manager Mark Schwartz presented his proposed budget two weeks ago.

Durán said increases in local and state contributions will be lower they have been over the last three years. The county has increased its contributions by an average of $19 million a year, while the state increased its contributions by about $4 million annually, he said.

APS could make up some of the gap with funding from the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, Durán said. The school system is projected to receive $20.5 million in funding from the plan, which House Democrats passed last week and sent to the Senate.

The government will likely require the funds be allocated to health and safety and learning loss, he said.

This is the second consecutive year that APS is not proposing step increases for staff. Last year, the approved $670 million budget included a projected gap of $27 million, which led APS not to include these compensation increases.

Responding to a directive from the School Board to provide compensation for staff at all levels, Durán said he is making a 2% cost of living adjustment.

“A step increase would not provide a compensation increase to 35% of our full-time employees or to 100% of our hourly workers and substitutes,” Durán said. “A cost of living adjustment ensures that everyone will receive something.”

But, he added, “while I do believe there are many steps in the right direction, I want to acknowledge and recognize that it is not enough.”

Salary and benefits costs account for nearly 79% of the total budget and 95% of the school operating fund.

In the official 2022 proposed budget, Durán wrote that the primary drivers of the budget are:

  • $10 million for student enrollment growth, including staffing, opening the neighborhood school at the Key site and moving three other schools
  • $9.5 million to restore funding for one-year reductions used to balance the FY 2021 budget
  • $9.2 million for a 2% cost of living adjustment for all staff
  • $2.2 million for special education needs such as additional interpreters and Pre-K assistants
  • $3.5 million to support network infrastructure and student access to the Internet

The investments in special education and English language services are part of continuing compliance with a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

“It seems clear to me that we are putting our emphasis on equity, equity for our students, equity for our staff in terms of the way that the proposed compensation is coming forward, and equity when it comes to our concerns about our students’ social-emotional needs,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said during the meeting last Thursday. “Those are major things that have been borne and laid bare because of the pandemic.”

School enrollment in the fall, meanwhile, is expected to rise well above figures from two years prior, after a big pandemic-caused dip this school year. Enrollment now projected to peak and start a slight decline mid-decade, after more than 15 years of growth to date.

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Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Francisco Durán announced return-to-school dates Tuesday afternoon, nearly 11 months since schools first closed at the outset of the pandemic.

Students will start trickling into their buildings by grade level on Tuesday, March 2. By Tuesday, March 16, all students who have chosen to be in-person will be able to go to school twice a week, either Tuesdays and Wednesdays or Thursdays and Fridays.

Teachers and staff, who have been re-entering their classrooms in phases since last week, will return one week before students, Durán said. This month, APS will end or scale back the programs currently providing some students with limited in-classroom instructional supports.

“I am encouraged by recent improvements in the health metrics, with case positivity rates and other indicators currently decreasing in Arlington and neighboring communities,” Durán told APS families via email. “Over the past two weeks, staff have returned to our buildings to prepare for the upcoming transition and to further strengthen our mitigation efforts.”

The superintendent was set to announce these dates during next week’s School Board meeting, but his plan changed last week, in response to a press conference in which Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam urged school systems to reopen by March 15.

More than half of APS staff members have received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to date, according to Durán, with new appointments being added “all the time.” Staff who received the vaccine in mid-January are now scheduling their second dose appointments, he added.

Durán said families will be receiving further communication from APS regarding in-person days, the instructional model, transportation and any changes to teachers or classroom assignments.

He urged the school community to be “vigilant and work together,” after a year marked by protests and counter-protests over the ongoing closure of Arlington schools. Some APS families and many teachers have opposed the reopening of schools until more vaccinations could be administered.

“Our ability to continue moving ahead depends on all of us wearing masks, staying home when sick, and following all the other mitigation strategies recommended by Public Health to reduce the spread of the virus,” Durán said.

Durán added that he will share more information at the Feb. 18 School Board meeting.

The back-to-school scheduled announced today is below.

March 2-5:

  • PreK-2nd grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Elementary Special Education Programs (PreK-5th grade – mini MIPA, MIPA, Life Skills, Communications and Deaf and Hard of Hearing – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Elementary students enrolled in Interlude

March 9-12:

  • 3rd-5th grade students
  • 6th and 9th grade students
  • All students enrolled in Countywide Secondary Special Education Programs (6th-12th grade – MIPA, Life Skills, Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Shriver Program – in person four days a week, Tues-Fri)
  • Secondary students enrolled in Interlude and PEP program

March 16-19:

  • 7th-8th grade students
  • 10th-12th grade students

Special programs will end or be scaled back on the following days:

  • Friday, Feb. 19: five-day instructional learning supports for identified students at four elementary schools will switch to Mondays only.
  • Friday, Feb. 19: the seven meal drop-off locations that are not school-based will cease operating.
  • Friday, Feb. 26: the “work space” program for secondary students will stop running.

Image via APS/Twitter

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