CIP Update: Middle School Capacity – Band-aids or Buildings?

The APS board met Thursday evening and received an update from APS staff on the school system’s Capital Improvement Planning (CIP) process. Jamestown’s PTA and several Jamestown parents addressed the Board regarding the pressing need for middle school capacity, particularly to relieve overcrowding at Williamsburg Middle School.

Why is this important?
Projections show that Williamsburg will be at 111.6% of capacity next year, 120.3% in 2016, 125.5% in 2017, and 132.9% in 2018. Swanson Middle School faces even more acute overcrowding during the same period.

Regrettably, the CIP that was approved this summer by the APS board and Arlington County Board, and will be put before Arlington voters in November, contains no funds for new middle school construction, only $4 million for planning. The CIP anticipates seeking voter approval for construction funding in 2016, and using the 2014-2016 period to complete site selection, program choices and facility design. The PTA, working with concerned Jamestown parents, has been pressing APS to move forward aggressively to make the siting and other decisions needed to be ready to bring a solid construction funding plan forward in 2016. If funding is approved in 2016, the earliest a new school could be on-line is 2019.

Thursday evening’s APS board meeting was a source of some encouragement and at least as much concern.
• On the positive side, APS staff seems determined to conduct a very broad public engagement process between now and the middle of November to try to frame a recommendation for siting a new 1300-seat middle school at the Wilson (West Rosslyn) site, with potential relocation of the H.B. Woodlawn program to Wilson or Reed (in Westover), and expansion/renovation at the Stratford building (which now houses the H.B. Woodlawn program).
• On the negative side, several board members seemed skeptical toward construction of a new school and more interested in the potential to expand the middle schools by a few hundred seats, and make other marginal changes that would stretch the enrollment capacity at Williamsburg, Swanson and Gunston. Taken together, there was no evidence that the board has a consensus view on how to expand middle school capacity. The staff was directed to prepare a comprehensive analysis of all options for stretching the existing schools’ capacities, while also pursuing the public process on siting a new school.
What can you do to help?
• First, Let APS know that 2019 is too late for action on overcrowding. While we may not be able to build a new school until 2019, the School Board needs to find creative solutions for addressing this crisis between now and when new capacity can be provided. Some of the possibilities mentioned last night include boundary changes, increasing enrollment at HB next year, and creating a 6th Grade Academy at Madison Community Center. While these ideas were floated, there was no evidence that any are under serious study. The PTA does not yet have a position on these proposed options, but we do think that the School Board needs to start analyzing and socializing these choices now so that parents can prepare for what may come. We also encourage parents to let the PTA know what options are preferable so that we can advocate for the right solution for our community.
• Second, let APS know how you feel about “Band-Aids versus Buildings”. We recognize that APS needs solid numbers and fair analyses to decide the best ways to use public money to provide new school capacity, but tinkering with marginal measures should not be allowed to delay or deflect planning for the new school contemplated in the 2014 CIP. The School Board is now looking at Band-aids versus Buildings. We encourage parents to let APS know your preference. Does it make more sense to put more students into already-packed hallways and cafeterias or to take pressure off all the middle schools by bringing a new state-of-the-art middle school into the system? The School Board can be reached at School.Board@apsva.us. Members of the School Board will also be at the Arlington County Fair this weekend.
What Else Can You Do?
• Get involved in the Jamestown PTA. The first PTA meeting will be held at Jamestown at 7:30 p.m. on September 2, 2014. We welcome everyone. Really. We will welcome you!
• APS is also asking parents to complete an online survey regarding the options that are being discussed at apsva.us/moreseats.
• This fall, APS will host a series of community workshops and provide other engagement opportunities on upcoming capital planning efforts. The community is invited to participate and provide feedback on how APS can build additional capacity to accommodate increasing enrollment at all levels. The PTA will keep you posted on opportunities to get involved in these community engagement activities.
• Because these concerns extend beyond just our Jamestown community, please check out www.moreseats.com for additional information and chances to activate.
For further information contact the PTA’s CIP Liaison Courtney Barton at
moreseats@jamestownpta.org or PTA President Tom Jensen at president@jamestownpta.org.