• Next Meeting--Thursday, Nov. 6 7:00 PM at the Community Room of the Ballston Firehouse Station (located at Wilson Blvd and N. George Mason Drive).

October 20, 2014

Arlington school bonds–not ready for approval

Development,schools — @ 5:15 pm

westover library-reed school
(photo of Reed School with Westover Library)

Arlington Greens chairman speech to Arlington Council of PTAs, on Oct. 20, 2014

Good evening members of Arlington PTAs. Let me congratulate you for your volunteer work to improve our community’s public education.

I am John Reeder, an Arlington resident, graduate of Yorktown High School, father of three daughters all graduates of Arlington Public Schools, and chairman of the Arlington Green Party. My wife was a 40-year Fairfax elementary school teacher, and my daughter teaches English in Washington, D.C.

I support spending for public education for all children and excellent salaries for our teachers and school staff. I support capital spending to provide more class rooms, but cannot support throwing money at capital projects without foresight and planning.

I urge you and other Arlington voters to reject the $105.8 million dollar school bond on the November ballot.

Here’s the short answer as to why voters should vote no: the school system is not ready to thoughtfully spend $106 million to add seats to last 30 years.
We voters cannot trust APS to effectively invest these funds without a detailed and a comprehensive plan that parents, educators, and the community all can support. Unfortunately, the APS has failed to accurately project enrollment and capacity over the past two decades.
The board should first prepare a specific plan that supports students and educational programs and adds seats, with engineering and reasonable cost estimates. Then ask voters for an adequate bond for very specific projects, be it for $106 million or $306 million.

Capital funds do not immediately produce new seats. We should not hurry to waste and misapply one hundred million dollars building the wrong or too small schools, and then have to rebuild the same schools in five years. Just 5 years ago, a new, $100 million W-L high school was opened for 1,500 students, but now has 2,046 students.

The school board spends over $500 million annually for operating costs, and now without a detailed, engineering plan, it will get another $106 million to spend somewhere and hope for the best.

There is confusion and missing leadership among school board members and the superintendent. There will be two new school board members this year; parents and PTAs are still divided over where and how new seats should be added. The school board failed to timely adopt a CIP which would have settled the capacity expansion.

There are many unanswered questions:
Will HB Woodlawn move to the Reed School or to a new Wilson site?
Will APS build a new elementary school next to TJ Middle School?
Where should more seats be added and how?
Can we preserve green space around our schools?
Will engineering plans reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings?
Can APS reduce the over $70,000 cost of adding one seat?

Voters: Please reject this bond request.

APS should come back to voters in a year and provide citizens with a well thought out, detailed plan to address the enrollment increase, and then present a detailed bond question to voters so that we in the community can make an informed decision.
Thank you

Tagged:

October 14, 2014

Adding new schools in Arlington–follow Fairfax’s example and convert an office building

Development,schools — @ 12:06 pm

The Washington Post reported on October 13 about a new elementary school in Baileys Crossroads, Fairfax that is a former office building that can hold 800 students. The cost of the Baileys building including the $9 million cost of buying the empty office building was about $20 million for a student capacity of 795 (they have 700 students today). Baileys Elementary is considered one of the premier elementary schools in Fairfax County, specializing in art and music and drawing students from all over Fairfax as well as the Baileys Crossroads.

baileys elementary new school
(photo of new Baileys Elementary School, courtesy of Fairfax County Public Schools)

So an 800-student school cost $20 million; that’s about $25,000 per student. Arlington is building a new elementary at Williamsburg MS for a $73,000 per student cost, nearly 3 times the Fairfax cost, and the land there is free unlike Baileys.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2014/10/08/what-to-do-with-dying-suburban-office-buildings-turn-them-into-schools/

Why can’t Arlington Public Schools buy an empty office building and convert it into a 800-student elementary like Fairfax for $20 million? Drive a hard bargain like FCPS did, and buy a vacant office building. Several months, we wrote an article for Arlington Greens about the over 25 percent office vacancy rate in Crystal City and Rosslyn and the need to recycle these empty office buildings into residential apartments and schools.

Suppose APS paid $20 million for a similar sized building in Crystal City or Rosslyn, and spent $14,000 per student to remodel it into a school like FCPS, a 800 student school would still cost only $32 million or $40,000 per student.

APS is spending $46 million to build the new elementary for only 630 students at the Williamsburg MS campus in 97,000 square feet of space, slightly smaller than the new Baileys Crossroads School. APS cost does not include any funds to buy an existing office building just construction costs using public land. Also, do they really think that only 690 students will enroll there?

http://www.apsva.us/Page/18930

So the cost per student is $46 million / 630 = $73,000 per student seat at the new Williamsburg ES

Arlington is supposed to add 6,000 more students over the next ten years; at $73k per student seat, the APS will need to spend about $440 million for 6,000 more seats. That would mean issuing $440 million in school bonds.

Tagged:

October 6, 2014

Arlington Greens Vote to Oppose All Four Arlington Bond Questions on the November Ballot

Arlington Greens Vote to Oppose All Four Arlington Bond Questions on the November Ballot

October 6, 2014

The Arlington Greens voted unanimously at their October 2nd meeting to ask Arlington voters to deny the four bonds on the ballot on November 4: the four bonds total $218 million, the largest being $106 million for Arlington Public Schools.

The Greens indicated that the bond questions on the ballot for voter approval or denial were too broad and non-specific, and were essentially blank checks to the Arlington School Board and to the Arlington County Board to spend money for undefined purposes and without any cost or engineering plans.

John Reeder the Arlington Greens chairman said, “Arlington parents distrust the school board, and many feel duped by the School Board’s failure to approve a detailed CIP (Capital Improvement Plan). South Arlington parents were promised years ago a new elementary school, now proposed to be built on scarce parkland next to TJ Middle School.” He added, “Arlington parents should remember that critical on-going school programs were put on the chopping block in the past spring; and now a confused school board and a superintendent propose to rush spending $106 million on plans that are less than educationally optimal for our students.”

Reeder said the County Board similarly failed to specify for its three bond questions exactly where and how it will spend $61 million on transportation infrastructure, $13 million for local parks and recreation, and $39 million on “county facilities, information technology, and infrastructure.” He said, “voters should be wary of allowing the county board to spend over $100 million without detailed engineering and vetted plans because of these past abuses.”

Reeder added, “This county board built a million dollar bus stop on Columbia Pike, diverted many millions of park bond dollars approved by voters for park land acquisition to remodeling a failed Artisphere, and now proposes to spend over $300 million on a doomed trolley.”

The Arlington Green Party has run candidates for the Arlington County Board for the past 8 years. This year it has endorsed, independent county board member John Vihstadt for election in the November election.

Tagged:

June 10, 2014

Arlington parents and residents oppose building a new large sized middle school in Rosslyn at Wilson School site

Development,schools — @ 10:13 am

A group of parents and residents are circulating a petition to the APS board against a mega school proposed to cover most of the Wilson School site. Mark Antell, a Green members, heartily supports their perspective and recommend that civic minded citizens sign the petition.

The Arlington Green Party has NOT taken a position on this petition, but several Green members endorse this petition and oppose building a mega school at the Wilson School site. Community activists have mentioned other locations for a needed middle school in the county–for example, two closed schools–the Fairlington Community Center in south Arlington, and the Madison Recreation Center near Chain Bridge in north Arlington, as well as existing empty commercial office buildings in Crystal City, Rosslyn, and other locations.

wilson school photo2

Here’s the petition site

http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/vote-no-to-1300-seat?source=s.icn.em.cp&r_by=10703771

Tagged:

April 30, 2014

Arlington voters to Arlington School Board– Don’t cut the Autism Program for Arlington middle and high school students!

schools — @ 3:57 pm

Subject: Don’t cut the Autism Program for Arlington middle and high school students!

Friends –

Please sign the petition to stop proposed cuts to the Autism program for Arlington middle and high school students. The School Board is proposing to cut seven positions from this very successful program which helps students with Autism take all of their main subjects in regular classrooms. The board is cutting $271,000 at a time when the number of young people diagnosed with Autism is increasing. The cuts would hurt 58 children who are currently in the program at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, H B Woodlawn, Washington &Lee High School, and Yorktown High School, as well as many future students now in elementary school who will be entering the middle and high schools in coming years. We believe the program is good for all students, who benefit from having peers with special needs supported in their classrooms.

http://www.change.org/petitions/don-t-cut-the-autism-program-for-middle-and-high-school-students?recruiter=79127559&utm_campaign=signature_receipt&utm_medium=email&utm_source=share_petition

In addition to signing the petition, there are two more ways you can help.

First, please forward the petition link to your friends who live in Arlington. And spread the word throughout Arlington through listervs and other communication networks. Every new signature on the petition generates a message with comments sent to each School Board member. We’re trying to reach 1,000 signatures by May 8.

Second, please join us at the Public Hearing on the School Budget on Thursday, May 8 — arrive at 7:00pm at 1426 N Quincy Street — to speak (if you like) or just show your support. Families and hand made signs are welcome. Bring as many friends as you can. Please RSVP at this link http://bit.ly/1h9O7Ob.

With all of the heartfelt support that people are giving, we’re more and more hopeful that we can persuade the Board to reject the cuts and instead work with parents and teachers to evaluate and expand the program to more children and schools.

Thanks again,

Gordon, Julia, Peter, Liz, Maria, Margaret, Maria, Doina and all of the other Concerned Parents of Students with Asperger’s/Autism

More information:

The petition site change.org requires that people be 13 years or older to sign the petition

Background: The Arlington School District is proposing to cut 7 staff members from the District’s successful Autism program for middle and high school students. The $271,000 in cuts would hurt our children by making it harder for them to participate in regular classrooms with their peers who are not in special education. Arlington’s middle and high school Autism program is successful because the 58 students who currently participate receive social skills instruction from teachers who understand Autism and Asperger’s, and direct support from assistants in regular mainstream classrooms. All students, with or without disabilities, benefit from increased attention and the expertise of the staff. Cutting more than half of the assistants would undermine the program. With the number of children being diagnosed with Autism rising, we need to expand, not cut, successful programs. Here is a report put together by parents about the program and its success.

Tagged:

April 28, 2014

Early thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School in Rosslyn

Early Thoughts on Proposed Redevelopment of the Wilson School from Mark Antell, longtime Rosslyn civic activist
wilson school photo2
Some History
In the 1980s through the mid 1990s, the Wilson School building did not host a school. But the playfield was maintained, and it was heavily used evenings and weekends by the community. By 1997, the school building was back in use, as a ‘swing space’ for elementary schools undergoing renovation. The playfield however, was rendered unusable by trailers.
Over the last decade, Arlington Public Schools (APS) and Arlington County Government have proposed several initiatives to densely develop the Wilson School property. North Rosslyn Civic Association has opposed such proposals with a consistent message that the Wilson Site should be used for education and community service. We’ve been fortunate to receive strong support for that position from RAFOM (the Civic Association south of Wilson Blvd.), and from a number of civic-minded individuals and organizations throughout Arlington.

Now
Today, the school is underutilized. It hosts only two programs, the delightful Mongolian School* program on Saturdays, and a once a year ‘holiday fiesta’ for our low-income families. Otherwise the Wilson School is unavailable for adult education or other community use. Also, the playfield is largely unusable.

The Current Proposal
APS proposes to build a new school on the property and to provide a functional playing field. Detail is lacking, but below I provide my early take on what we, the nearby residents, should regard as positive about this proposal; what we should regard as objectionable; and what we need answers about.

Pluses
The most positive feature of the new APS proposal is that it uses the Wilson site appropriately, for education. Parents of students will form a powerful lobby to assure that developed and recreation space are optimized. The community would gain meeting space, adult education space, and both outdoor and indoor recreation space. For way way too long we’ve not had a playfield in our community. Here’s a chance to get one.

Minuses
The Wilson School is an historic building. A new building will likely possess little of the charm, and little if any of the history.
The proposed new middle school would be many times the size and height of the current Wilson School. It would add substantial density affecting traffic, parking, views, etc. This would be the first ‘urban school’ in Arlington, and in my experience, APS staff does a horrible job the first time they tackle anything. We will do ourselves and incoming students a great service if we sharply question this project before it is ‘set in concrete.’

Unknowns / Questions we should raise early on, before they become issues
What happens to our pedestrian path, sitting area, small playground, and basketball court? It’s not clear. I understand that the future of these existing green/recreation areas will be discussed in a separate process, the West Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS). It might be a good idea to ask that study to examine whether the Wilson Firestation should be replaced at its current location, or whether it might be better to use that land for additional playspace for the very large school planned next door.
The new school will, inevitably, schedule some activities outside normal school hours. Which school resources (gym, meeting space, educational space, playfield) will be available for community use, and when will they be available?
It would also be a good idea to decide if we, the nearby residents, want the playfield to be available for use after dark.

Tagged:

October 5, 2012

Arlington Greens support bonds for Metro and transportation, and community infrastructure on the November 6 ballot in Arlington, but reject parks and recreation bond, and neutral on the school bond

Oct. 5, 2012

Arlington Green Party supports bonds for Metro and transportation, and community infrastructure on the November 6 ballot in Arlington, but rejects parks and recreation bond, and stays neutral on the school bond.

Arlington Greens voted at their October 3 meeting to urge Arlington voters to approve the $31.9 million bond for Metro and transportation, and the $28.3 million bond for community and neighborhood infrastructure. Greens urge Arliington voters to disapprove the $50.5 million bond for parks and recreation (most of which will go to build a vanity water park in Crystal City at the Long Bridge Park). Greens supported the two Virginia Constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Arlington Greens stayed neutral on the $42.6 million school bond, and were divided as to whether the school board plan to spend these funds was a wise and sustainable way to reduce student overcrowding and at the same time improve student academic achievement.

Arlington Green chairman John Reeder said,” Arlington school enrollments are rising, and that more must be done to open more schools and provide more classrooms, but this hasty school board plans to build two new elementary schools next to existing schools, and to simply add more trailers or to build more classrooms at already overcrowded elementary schools is ill advised.

Green parent and activist Sandra Hernandez said, “the school board’s building plan is too costly and eliminates green space and recreation fields. “ She recommended that the board open up smaller, magnet and new elementary schools, at the Fairlington Community Center or the Madison Recreation Center, and even open a new performing arts and arts middle school at the Newseum building in Rosslyn, now used as a failing performing arts center at county expense.

Arlington Greens rejected the $50 million bond for recreation and parks as wasteful. AGP chairman John Reeder says the county does not need the proposed aquatics center with five pools because there already are three Olympic-sized public pools available at three Arlington high schools, and many private summer pools as well. The Long Bridge Park is remote, and inaccessible to most county residents, and aging parks and ball fields in other parts of the county should take precedence over building five vanity swimming pools. The county board has persistently neglected parks like Lubber Run Amphitheater in order to fund its pet vanity projects like the Long Bridge swimming pools and the money-losing Newseum in Rosslyn, Reeder said.

Tagged: