Letter: Examine School Spending

Letter: Examine School Spending

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

I am the owner and operator of Potomac River, Realtors, located near the King Street Metro Station. As such, I work hard to promote Alexandria every single day. I am also the only Independent candidate running a winning campaign for a seat on the Alexandria City Council this upcoming Nov. 3.

During the course of my work as a Realtor, I am repeatedly confronted with residents who are planning to leave Alexandria and must sell their homes (unhappily, I must add).

A vast majority of these Alexandrians are leaving despite the fact that they love:

  • Our city’s great walk-ability;

  • All of our fantastic restaurants and shops;

  • Our beautiful parks and open space (yes, we do have a large amount of parkland: 566 acres of city-owned parkland and 900 acres of protected open space); and

  • Our friendly and welcoming neighbors.

You might ask: If Alexandria has all this to offer, why are residents fleeing our city?

Despite all of the above (and more), many of my clients with young children ask me to help them sell their homes and leave Alexandria because of the poor ratings of our public schools in comparison to other nearby jurisdictions. Whether their perceptions of how poor the quality of our school public system has become is real, or not, what is “real” is that I’m not the only Realtor who has been confronted with this issue. I’ve been told by many of my fellow associates that this “family flight” has been going on for decades.

There is no reason whatsoever for the poor performance ratings of our schools relative to our neighbors in Fairfax, Arlington, and Loudoun counties, and Falls Church City, all which are ranked as having some of the best school systems in the Commonwealth. Those who can afford to send their children to private school often stay in Alexandria, but there is a clear race and income divide between those who stays and who goes, and the statistics prove it.

If we really want to be Progressives, some of our solutions to this issue involve a revolution in the way Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) money is spent.

  • It involves eliminating the overlapping administrative hierarchy and fiefdoms created by former school superintendent Morton Sherman. Reducing administrative overhead enables those monies to be appropriated to future increases in teacher salaries and headcount.

  • It means eliminating the concept that beautiful, well-equipped buildings equate to well-educated students. I spoke to a city employee who used the term, “lipstick on a pig,” regarding the one-year-old Jefferson Houston Elementary School building.

  • It means using the dollars saved from a reduction in the scope of construction and applying those funds to programs and teachers focused specifically on education and social development, both in the classroom and outside the classroom. As a Realtor, I know that it is more cost-effective to gut and rehab a building, rather than completely tear it down and start from scratch.

One of the basic tenets of economics is opportunity cost. If I apply a resource, I no longer have it to apply in a different manner. The opportunity cost of building grandiose schools is the cost of the debt service over the following 20-to-30 years, which is money that cannot be applied to transformative operational programs (including Parks, Recreation, and Cultural activities and programs) or much-needed increased salaries to the teachers and coaches who work hard to help deliver a great foundation of educational learning and recreational enjoyment for our children. Our children's teachers certainly deserve better.

It is incumbent upon the City Council to provide leadership and direction to the entire city. The City Council’s job regarding schools is not simply to provide and allocate funds for the School Board to spend. City Council must provide firm leadership, guidance, set expectations, and demand positive results from all departments, including our schools.

We are a very proud of our city, yet, we have been blindly dismissive of our public schools for far too long. Together, we must work toward a resolute dedication of not accepting anything but the absolute best education for our children.

I am running to win a seat on City Council to work with my fellow council members to begin the much-needed change that will enable us to reinvigorate, recharge, and rehabilitate Alexandria City Public Schools.

Phil Cefaratti

Independent Candidate

for Alexandria City Council