To the editor:
As the father of two young children who will start in Alexandria City Public Schools in the coming years, I’m excited for the education that awaits them, even if they will be entering into crowded buildings. Across our city, classrooms are bursting at the seams, and enrollment in ACPS is approaching a 50-year high.
This enrollment growth speaks well of the city’s welcome to families of all backgrounds and demonstrates faith in school quality, but it is still a real problem. Schools are low on physical space for students to learn, play and grow.
It has been easy for many leaders to pretend that this is a problem that can be put off for another day. Going back at least to when I served on the ACPS Budget Advisory Committee in 2010, the school board and ACPS leadership have raised concerns about the lack of classroom capacity based on growing enrollment. For many members of council, however, other capital investments continued to take higher priority.
The only member of council who consistently, for years, has understood and advocated for smart school expansion is Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. He worked with ACPS and the community to understand why enrollment was growing, not just where and how. He listened to families about what they want and need in the physical buildings they send their children to every day.
When additional funding needs arose – to accelerate the timeline for the new building at Patrick Henry, or to enable ACPS to purchase rather than lease the new West End elementary site – Wilson sought to find a way to say yes, and to convince his colleagues of the same. These were not easy decisions, nor were they made lightly – but Wilson worked to find the solution that allowed our city and its schools to best represent our values of serving all.
The same cannot be said of Mayor Allison Silberberg. In her campaign mailers and at the mayoral debate on May 2, Silberberg cited opening two new schools as one of her proudest accomplishments. Yet, she was the only member of council to vote against a budget that secured the revenue necessary to fund the next wave of capital improvements needed in our schools.
Nobody likes taxes. Yes, the sewers in Old Town required immediate attention. But with enrollment growth showing no signs of stopping – ACPS has added the equivalent of an entire elementary school in total student population annually since 2010 – her opposition to putting money aside now to build later cannot be justified.
ACPS will still have capacity challenges to tackle in the years ahead. The thoughtfulness that Wilson has shown to secure ACPS the capital funds it needs and his dedication to ensuring that all students have a safe and sufficient space to learn are why he is the right choice to be our city’s next mayor.
-Patrick Byrnett, Alexandria