Alexandria Letter: Schools Face Growth Crisis

Alexandria Letter: Schools Face Growth Crisis

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

I feel compelled to write to you to correct your headline "Minnie Howard Miniaturized Improvement Budget" in the Dec. 23 addition. This led your readers to believe the School Board cut the Minnie Howard project. This is not the case.

Last year, the School Board approved $27.6M to build 20 new classrooms and a partial modernization to expand some of the common areas like the cafeteria and administrative buildings. I want to be clear that this project needs to be done and has been in our Capital Improvement Program (CIP) budget for over 6 years. Our high school population is now over 3,500 students. This city needs to expand secondary space for our students. However, this project was not approved for funding in the city budget last year, causing the superintendent and School Board to go back to the drawing board.

This year’s CIP proposal made by the superintendent to the School Board included 10 classrooms for Minnie Howard and a full building modernization. But this project proved too expensive for the School Board, at an increased estimate of $44M. A discussion was launched around how to best use those dollars across the 10 years.

In the end, the School Board felt it would be best to build some number of classrooms and a partial modernization and then use the difference to expand preschool and build a new elementary school to help resolve some of the urgent capacity issues there.

When all the numbers were settled, the Minnie Howard project is now at $29.8M, over $2M more than last year. The School Board did not miniaturize it.

Concurrently, the superintendent is also doing research about grade level assignment and could be looking to use that campus for a variety of different secondary programmatic solutions. This report will be complete by next fall. In the meantime, ACPS has a crowded high school and definitely needs to build at the Minnie Howard campus.

We have a growth crisis in the school system now. Due to deferred capital projects over many years, ACPS is trying to think creatively about the next three years in order to advance academics while providing the proper and optimal learning environments for all students at all our campuses.

Additionally, the best investment for the city is in preschool. ACPS is working with partners and the city to ensure that we are developing a quality Pre-K program for every four-year-old child in the city. If this is accomplished, it will also help ease some of the crowding issues at five of the elementary campuses.

While I think the article somewhat explains our decision making, it is helpful to understand the past budgets as well as our past and future growth projection numbers. ACPS will be growing until 2030. The School Board needs to make the best decisions with the properties we own and make sure that we are creative fiscally and academically in developing our properties for the future. And there is not a chance we can miniaturize that.

Karen Graf

Chairman, School Board