School Demands Outweigh Supply


The bottom line more than $100 million needed over the next six years  for the citys public school improvement and expansion budget is probably not what the city and its elected officials wanted to hear, but its what they have got.

Monday night, Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Morton Sherman presented the School Board with a two-pronged approach to his school systems capital improvement plan through 2016: A needs-based budget of $139 million and an official resource-constrained financial plan of $127 million, according to budget documents.

Of that restricted total, about $50 million addresses sobering school capacity issues that resulting from a system-wide surge in enrollment since 2007 that is only expected to continue.

Economic circumstances being what they are, it remains to be seen how much of the proposal the School Board follows through with and how much the city government will allot to them.
What we have taken here is a very candid assessment, Sherman told the Board.

We have not shaved numbers to the point where we say we think we can get them passed, he said. But I do want you to know this honest statement raises lots of tough issues for you as a school board and for the City Council and the community at large.

Sherman also stressed the importance of looking at the capital improvement budget as an investment in the citys increasing number of young people and in the future of the community overall.
School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts said Tuesday afternoon that the dual-look budget added a longer-term projection for the school districts serious maintenance and repair work that forecasts its needs through 2029.

Since we just got it last night, obviously Im still digesting it, she said, but everyone knows weve got significant work we need to do on our buildings.

Sherman and Assistant Superintendent Margaret Byess explained that the proposed plan emphasized the school systems enrollment needs, the needs of its current building stock as detailed in an external study and the imperatives put in place by the ACPS Strategic Plan that the Board ratified last year.
Less than two weeks before, Sherman had shared with the City Council the results of the outside audit by EMG Corporation, a national real estate assessment firm, which identified more than $155 million in repairs required of the current ACPS facilities over the next 20 years.

The age of many ACPS buildings is a main cause for concern; more than half of the citys schools are at least 50 years old and four schools are already beyond or very near to the recommended 75-year lifespan for such buildings, according to Mondays presentation.

Projected enrollment numbers through the 2015-2016 school year have the total ACPS population growing by roughly 2,000 students, a stress that officials have said the schools cannot come close to handling at their current capacity.

We need to be thinking about six years and then 10 years and then 20 years and then 30 years down the line, not just next year, Byess said. If we only think about next year were not going to be where we need to be 30 years from now when 13 of our buildings are over 75 years old.

Even next year, Byess said, estimates show the citys elementary schools coming up six full-size classrooms short.

For next year, the budget calls for $16.1 million $7.6 million of which will go toward increasing capacity at John Adams, Charles Barrett and James K. Polk elementary schools and other expansion work at three more schools.

Also, in keeping with the citys Eco-City initiative, $1.6 million is recommended to replace the ailing field at the Francis C. Hammond middle school campus with an all-weather synthetic turf field.

Other significant plans for the next handful of years include a new elementary school building in the western and eastern portions of the city and replacing the Jefferson-Houston school building with a public-private partnership facility.

These projects are not proposed until the 2012-2013 school year but weigh heavily on the current discussion.

If the enrollment continues the way it has been, I dont know where we would put our students if we didnt have more buildings, Folkerts said. But I also respect that the city is struggling with its own economic conditions, so thats one of the reasons the superintendent is suggesting to hold off for about a year to decide upon the larger expansion projects.

Each of the new schools is expected to cost roughly $21 million.

This years initial, limited proposal still totals $44.7 million more than the one offered last year for the fiscal span of 2010 to 2015.

Sheryl Gorsuch, vice chair of the School Board, was still absorbing the information Tuesday.
Theres some interesting, out-of-the box proposals so well have an opportunity to get questions answered and flesh out some details, Gorsuch said.

Were going to have to dig deep, were going to have to determine, really, what we believe our most serious needs are to submit to the city for their consideration, Folkerts said.

The Board has a work session planned for the capital improvement budget on December 10 and a public hearing scheduled for a week later. It will approve the 2011-2016 plan on January 7 and then submit the document to the City Council by February 9.