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.