Forced to choose, district prioritizes West End schools

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The Alexandria City Council and school board have called on their respective staffs to find a way to fund the first three years of ACPS multimillion-dollar capital improvement plan.

The directive came as council and school board members sat down together to discuss the 10-year $372.6 million roadmap. Though City Manager Jim Hartmanns budget trims the proposed CIP by roughly $214 million, school officials again made the case for the full amount.

Enrollment has grown by about 1,700 students in five years, with about 1,300 of those children in the citys elementary schools, said board chair Yvonne Folkerts. Combine the squeeze with aging buildings and rising maintenance costs, and officials had few choices for the weighty wish list, she said. 

We heard your collective gasp when our CIP landed on your doorstep, she told city council. We had our own extensive debate about the 10-year, $372.6 million request We came to the conclusion we must put these dollars in front of you.

Still, council members agreed school officials face a very real challenge of growing enrollment, particularly on the citys West End. 

We feel your pain, however there are very few dollars to accomplish all of your needs, said Mayor Bill Euille. Because of the magnitude of your fiscal needs, dollar wise, I think its appropriate to try and focus on what we can do in a short period of time, in the two or three year period.

Within a three-year time frame, school officials want to build 20 modular classrooms, erect a second K-8 school on the Patrick Henry site without closing the existing building and reconstruct the Jefferson-Houston school.

Pressed further to prioritize, Folkerts put Jefferson-Houston below the project at Patrick Henry, but said pressure on overcrowded schools would be eased by a new building in the Parker-Gray neighborhood. 

Councilwoman Alicia Hughes tempered arguments favoring the Jefferson-Houston project. If money can be found for an eastside school, it also must be scrounged up for the West End, she said. 

We need to do not one, we need to deal with both of those issues, Hughes said. To put one on top of the other is a gross inadequacy and injustice.

Vice Mayor Kerry Donley said the council was facing a capacity issue of its own the capacity to carry debt. Were the plan fully funded the city would come uncomfortably close to its debt ceiling, he said. 

City officials also pointedly refuted claims the Potomac Yard Metro Station project would take money that otherwise could be freed up for school construction and renovation. Potomac Yard will be built without touching the general fund, said Councilman Rob Krupicka. 

Even if Potomac Yard weren’t part of the picture, the school proposal puts us at the top of our AAA bond rating, he said.

With staff ready join forces and rework the first three years of the CIP, city council members will likely revisit the fiscal roadmap with the school board on March 30. 

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