To the Editor:
My thanks to Michael Lee Pope for pointing out to readers in the March 14 issue the troubling ironies as the City of Alexandria again tries to juggle the budget and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. There was the stark listing of proposed cuts that were deferred, at least temporarily. How can any city that considers the safety of its children seriously recommend cutting $476, 930 to drop all school crossing guards? And, by the same breath, cough up almost $1 million for the private, profit-generating BikeShare program? This makes no sense.
Similarly, why are we so top-heavy with principals and administrators making from $117,000 to $161,000 and a superintendent making $264,000, that we can claim the dubious distinction of the “highest paid administrators in the region”? Given the summer, winter and spring breaks, plus other holidays, that’s an annual salary for 9-10 months of work. And why is such information so “closely guarded” that it requires an FOIA request to pry it loose? So much for transparency for public records and for public employees. Mr. Pope notes that Alexandria’s school system “administrators are getting about $700 in salary for each student.” Is that how we now describe “performance based pay”? No wonder the school system is the largest single component of the city’s budget.
And, similarly, our City Council and city manager now claim that in order to pay for our school system and for all our other ongoing needs, we need to rewrite our planning and land use rules to raise the necessary revenues. Thus we are prepared to sell off the Waterfront and the West End to the highest bidders, and the public be damned. Why resort any more to the sham of “public hearings” when the majority of elected officials turn a deaf ear to the many citizens who spend 5-10 hours at a public hearing and can’t even get significant revisions in flawed plans? Maybe we should resort to the tactic now used by the Governor of Michigan who has decided to override governance by duly elected officials in Detroit, and other cities, and he’ll appoint a new czar who will be accountable only to him. And imagine how much time and money the state will save, by overturning democracy for autocratic rule. The Virginia Legislative Assembly has recently passed legislation that will allow the state to take over “underperforming schools,” with no straightforward criteria, guidelines or enforcement mechanisms spelled out. And we have been told that one of Alexandria’s public schools is a prime candidate for this shift.
How did Alexandria, with its proud history of setting the standards for governance 1749 and as a incubator for our national Constitution, wind up in this sorry state?
Without the tenacious digging into arcane records by Mr. Pope each week, we would have no idea what is really happening in the budget or other layers of local government. As readers, we appreciate his efforts. As taxpayers, we wish he could clone other reporters who share his passion for putting the facts out there. Ignorance is not bliss.
Kathleen M. Burns