Last Thursday the School Board met to discuss several issues, including the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to address overcrowding in Arlington Public Schools. Jamestown’s PTA and several Jamestown parents delivered comments to the Board regarding the pressing need for new middle school capacity, particularly to relieve current and future overcrowding at Williamsburg Middle School.
Earlier this summer, the Arlington County Board approved the 2014 CIP that provides funding for County projects – including APS facilities – for the next 10 years. Unfortunately, the 2014 CIP did not include any money for building a new middle school serving North Arlington. This means that the next time funding will be considered by the School Board and County Board will be in 2016. Because it takes at least two years (or longer) to build a new school, North Arlington will not have new middle school capacity until at least 2019, several years after the middle schools in North Arlington are expected to be well over-capacity. By 2018, Williamsburg’s enrollment is expected to be 132.9% over capacity.
The School Board is evaluating three options for more seats in 2019: 1) Build a new middle school on the Wilson site in Rosslyn; 2) Renovate the Stratford site and move the HB Woodlawn Program to the Reed School; and 3) Renovate and/or create new space at 4 or 5 middle schools. Regardless of the final decision on how or where to add new seats, the School Board indicated on Thursday that there will be boundary changes, and those boundary changes will come sooner rather than later.
While the School Board has tried to assure parents that they have a budget and a deadline (2019) for providing more seats, the only money that has been allocated for more middle school seats at this point is the money in this year’s CIP: $4 million for planning only. 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 middle school construction funding plan forward in 2016.
How does this issue impact the Jamestown Community?
1) Jamestown’s students heading to middle school need more seats now: Projections show that Williamsburg will be at 125.5% in 2017, 120.3% in 2016, and 111.6% next year. The School Board and APS staff have been silent on plans to address current overcrowding. Because a new school can’t be built before the 2018 school year, several years after middle school crowding is forecast to become a serious problem, we have urged the School Board and APS staff to find and share with the community creative solutions for addressing the seat shortage between now and when new capacity can be provided. Some of the possibilities that have been mentioned include increasing enrollment at HB next year, creating a 6th Grade Academy at Madison Community Center, or using the Reed School if it is not part of the 2019 solution. While these ideas have been floated, there is no evidence that any are under serious study. The PTA does not yet have a position on these proposed options (none has been formally proposed by APS), but we do think that the School Board and APS staff need to start analyzing and socializing these and other possible options now so that parents can prepare for – and influence– what may come. We encourage parents to let the PTA know what options are preferable so that we can advocate for the right solution for our community. Regardless of the choices that emerge for new capacity in the near- and long-term, the PTA intends to urge APS to reveal and invite discussion on redistricting plans as soon as possible.
2) We Need 1300 Seats (or more) by 2019 and it will be hard to get them: We need to continue to advocate before the School Board and APS staff to ensure that the drive to build new seats by 2019 stays on schedule. The School Board is focused on securing 1300 new seats, but the School Board’s own analysis shows that 1300 may not be enough. Williamsburg had to add an unanticipated additional sixth grade team (44 kids) this year and Jamestown added a fifth kindergarten class at the eleventh hour. We can’t afford to fall short of 1300, but it is a real risk.
Even with the money allocated for planning in this year’s CIP, there is no guarantee that the 2016 CIP will allocate funds for a new middle school. Getting the minimum 1300 seats in place by 2019 is far from a sure thing. Each new middle school option faces opposition from sectors of the community. None will be a shoe-in. The fallback alternative of renovating and expanding four or five existing schools seems even more problematic, as campuses are already crowded, construction on occupied buildings is more complicated and more expensive, and each project is also likely to face community opposition. Project opponents tend to organize most aggressively and push the hardest. It would be a serious mistake to allow through inaction APS to hear only from those opposing project to increase middle school seats. We need to continue to raise our voices so that the School Board and APS staff know how important it is to the Jamestown community that the middle school construction program stays on track and on schedule.
How can you be involved?
Let the PTA know your thoughts on these issues. The PTA has been invited by APS to serve on a committee of neighborhood and school leaders tasked with advising APS on implementation of the CIP, with our first meeting set for September 15.
Get involved in the APS Community Engagement Activities. The School Board is planning a series of Community Engagement activities on these issues throughout to the Fall. A calendar of events can be found here: http://www.apsva.us/cms/lib2/VA01000586/Centricity/Domain/110/Tentative_Calendar_09-04-2014.pdf. The first open community meeting will be on October 2, 2014 and we urge the Jametown community to turn out to let the School Board know that we need to continue to work on the issues of overcrowding.
If you have thoughts or concerns on the boundary changes, please let your voice be heard. You can also always contact the School Board at School.Board@apsva.us and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out www.moreseats.com for additional information and chances to activate.
Come to the PTA meetings! The next PTA meeting will be held at Jamestown at 7:30 p.m. on October 7, 2014. We welcome everyone.
For further information at any time, please contact the PTA’s CIP Liaison, Courtney Barton, at email@example.com or PTA President Tom Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.