Filling in the blanks: Get involved in the ACPS budget process

Filling in the blanks: Get involved in the ACPS budget process
School board chairwoman Karen Graf

By Karen Graf

As Alexandria City Public Schools’ budget season approaches, the most important thing our community can do is to get engaged and stay involved. Public schools bring a vital spirit to our communities, for which we need your help.

One of the big topics this season will be capacity in our school system. This is an ongoing issue, but this year’s focus surely will be on secondary education facilities. Our community has been vocal about the emerging number of high school students.

We have more than 3,500 students attending T.C. Williams at multiple campus locations such as the satellite campus, Minnie Howard, the main King Street campus and Chance for Change. We are scheduled to see the high school population top out at more than 5,500 students in the coming years.

Currently, there is a Minnie Howard project in our 10-year capital budget. Many in our community are looking to add financing to that project in order to make it into a larger high school setting. I am in favor of making this adjustment to meet the needs of our high school staff and students. Building for future capacity needs, instead of merely triaging the existing building, is the type of forward thinking that will ensure a quality learning environment for students in our city.

Our primary focus must continue to be on academics. Strong academics must be the vision and the end goal of all of our capacity projects. New buildings ensure that all students have optimal learning environments and are not cramped into hallways or on stages as you currently see at each campus in ACPS.

In addition, last year, schools Superintendent Alvin Crawley proposed establishing a dual enrollment program where people pursuing an associate’s degree or a career in technical disciplines could access college-level curricula. This is another way to create smaller learning environments that focus on the needs of the students in what is becoming an unprecedentedly large high school population.

Additionally, this is a critical year for modernization in that we need to secure swing space to build and rebuild campuses like Douglas MacArthur Elementary School. There is not enough land at the site to build and house students at the same time. Currently, MacArthur is built to hold 550 students, but it currently houses more than 720 students. On top of that, the condition of the existing building requires continual and costly maintenance.

Whatever solution you would like to see, the purpose of the process is to get engaged, share your views and ideas, and be part of the discussion. Our schools are essential to our community.

ACPS will host a budget forum at 7 p.m. tonight at T.C. William High School, located at 3330 King St., in the rotunda. Come out and join the discussion.

The writer is the chairwoman of the Alexandria City School Board.