Our View: Reconsider a public-private Jefferson-Houston

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Alexandria City Public School officials should bring the option of a public-private partnership back to the table after spiking it amid public pressure last year. 

By including the community in its planning process for the new Jefferson-Houston pre-K-8 school, Superintendent Morton Sherman and the school board have righted the wrongs of last year, when they began planning the building with what neighbors called a lack of inclusion.

The school nixed the public-private plan because of the uproar, but a bump in the planning process doesnt negate a good idea, and the partnership should remain an option.

Its a shame such a gaffe redirected the project, because planners had the right idea: a public-private partnership to pay for a bigger, better school with fewer taxpayer dollars. Now that the process is starting with community input, its time to make the partnership part of the discussion again.

The correlation between the ACPS communication void and its decision to nix the plan is weak. Public pressure seems to have scared officials into forgetting a good idea all together. Now that they are implementing an inclusive planning process, a public-private partnership has to be in the picture, at least as an option. If it is vetted and turns out to be a poor choice, so be it, but good ideas should not be lost in the political ether.

The schools capital improvement plan is a live document; nothing is written in stone. School officials killed the plan in favor of pulling about $40 million from city coffers. Thats taxpayer money better spent on lowering tax burdens or elsewhere on the school system. After all, ACPS officials actually wanted about $384 million for capital improvements over the next 10 years (they received less than half of that), so there is apparently no shortage of needs. 

Enrollment in Alexandria is predicted to keep swelling, and the last thing a school district struggling to meet state and federal standards needs is students crammed together, vying for teachers attention. If theres a way to do that while mitigating taxpayers contributions, it must be regarded as a viable option.

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