October 17, 2014

Hard Questions for Arlington Public Schools

Environment,Schools — @ 5:33 pm

Democratic candidates for local office issued a press release the other day promising to deal with Arlington’s enrollment crisis.

Unfortunately they will not be able to meet the challenge under Arlington Public School’s (APS) recently adopted capital budget, as it projects a 2,500 seat deficit even AFTER spending $383 million to produce 4,000 additional seats.
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September 20, 2014

Asking the Fox to Guard the Hen House

Uncategorized — @ 5:31 pm

The McKinley Elemenatary School expansion project is supposed to be the poster child for what’s right about the Arlington Public Schools (APS) More Seats for More Students program, in contrast to the Ashlawn project, which is a tree hugger’s nightmare.

Yet when you look at the details, there’s not much difference. The Ashlawn project demolished a tree lined hill overlooking Bluemont Park and removed 100 mature trees to put in a parking loop. The McKinley project will take out 77 mature trees, including a “significant” red oak to put 20 additional parking spaces.
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September 7, 2014

More Ways To Provide More Classroom Seats

Budget,Schools — @ 12:17 pm

At a projected cost of more than $2 million per additional class room and nearly $19,000 per student per year, APS must reduce its capital and operating outlays to cope with increasing enrollments. At previous School Board meetings, I’ve recommended the use of modular classroom design, historic preservation tax credits, energy efficiency retrofits and renewable energy. All of these techniques have been demonstrated to cut capital and/or operating costs, sometimes by a lot.

Another possible opportunity to explore is the recent closure of St. Charles Elementary School on Washington Boulevard near Clarendon due to declining enrollment. (more…)

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July 17, 2014

Vote NO On the School Bond Referendum

Schools — @ 6:11 pm

On June 16, APS adopted a $453 million ten year capital budget that allocates $50.25 million for new elementary school classroom space at an unspecified location[s] in South Arlington. The original plan was to build an elementary school on the site of TJ Park near TJ Middle School off Glebe Road near Route 50. But community opposition was so strong that the School Board deferred a final decision about whether to build the school or extensions to other South Arlington schools for another six months.
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June 18, 2014

More Ways APS Can Save Money

Budget,Schools — @ 8:28 am

I was very pleased with the Budget Advisory Council (BAC) end of year report, particularly its acknowledgment that it represents all Arlington taxpayers, not just the subset with children in school. I also welcome the fact that BAC has embraced the recommendations of the 2012 Gibson Report, which evaluated APS on behalf of the Virginia Department of Education. Among the principal findings of that report, BAC cited the recommendation to explore increasing pupil-teacher ratios to address soaring costs:

“The cost of a lower pupil-teacher ratio is significant in terms of staffing. If the APS determined overall teacher positions based on a ratio of 12:1 – a 15 percent increase from the current level of 10.4:1, but still below all but one of its peers – it would need 277 fewer teachers (p. 2-7)”.

The Gibson Report advises that if facility related expenditures are added to instructional expenditures, APS could realize more than $30 million in savings annually by bringing its pupil-teacher ratio in line with neighboring school districts. (more…)

How APS Can Save Money

Budget,Schools — @ 8:08 am

Most of the commentary at recent School Board meetings has been about where to construct new schools. There has been virtually no discussion about the estimated $435 million cost, presumably because everyone agrees with the Superintendent that Arlington can raise the money by issuing more bonds.

Even though the cost of the Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcars has ballooned to $515 million, County Board has assured taxpayers that the project will be financed by leveraging the commercial real estate surcharge tax. So it says school construction will not compete with the trolley projects for bonds financed with residential real estate taxes.

Nevertheless ACB’s latest CIP indicates that $267 million for the trolleys will come from as yet unidentified federal and state grants. If those funds don’t materialize by the time construction is underway, the County will be forced to issue GO bonds or form a taxpayer subsidized Public Private partnership to finish the projects. That could place APS’ classroom capacity expansion project in jeopardy. (more…)

June 12, 2014

Debt Service on Trolleys Not Included in County Debt Ratios

Budget,Transportation — @ 8:52 am

The County’s proposed ten year capital budget (CIP) allocates over half a billion dollars for the Crystal City and Columbia Pike trolleys. This represents more than half the transportation capital budget and 19 percent of the total capital budget of $2.7 billion. Yet according to the Underlying Assumptions section of the Debt Capacity Analysis (B-15), the debt ratios utilized to determine the County’s bond rating do “not include revenue bonds anticipated to be issued for transportation projects [including the trolleys] and supported by the commercial real estate tax or the Crystal City TIF.”

In effect the debt service on $137 million worth of bonds to be issued to finance the Crystal City and Pike trolleys is off budget. Why? (more…)

June 6, 2014

Preserve Wilson School with Virginia Historic Tax Credits

Development,Schools — @ 4:05 pm

I was happy to learn at the May 22 and June 8 School Board meetings that other Arlington residents are concerned about plans to build a 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the Wilson School in Rosslyn. I was particularly impressed with Arlington lawyer Kristin Woody’s rationale for recommending the M5 alternative instead. The M5 alternative described in Arlington Public Schools (APS) Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) proposal, would relocate the Reed School to Madison Community Center; relocate HB Woodlawn HS to the Reed School and renovate the HB Woodlawn building for use as a new Stratford MS.
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May 26, 2014

Arlington School Board Capital Budget–Why is new school construction so expensive?

Schools — @ 9:36 am

The Superintendent’s Recommended Capital Improvement Program (CIP) indicates that within the next five years Arlington schools will have a deficit of 1,000 elementary school seats, 1,000 middle school seats, and about 500 high school seats.

To meet the demand for more seats the CIP proposes to:

  • build a new 725 seat elementary school in South Arlington for $50 million;
  • expand Abingdon School for $29 million;
  • construct a new 1,300 seat middle school at the site of the current Wilson School for $117 million;
  • construct a 1,300 seat new high school at the site of the Arlington Career Center for $149 million;
  • expand Washington-Lee High school for $5 million;

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May 11, 2014

More Seats for Students At What Cost?

Schools — @ 7:45 am

I applaud Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) recent announcement that it plans to defer consideration of Lubber Run Park as the site for a new school. Construction of new schools on parkland should be permanently ruled out, since Arlington has lost too much green space already. However, the prospect of tearing down the existing historic Wilson School to make way for a 1,300 seat secondary school in an already congested Rosslyn neighborhood, strikes me as bizarre. Wilson School should be preserved and renovated as an elementary school, the way it was designed. (more…)

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