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Facing inflation, a $17 million budget shortfall and fewer federal economic recovery funds, the Alexandria City Council will consider a tax increase in its upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget.

City Manager Jim Parajon has been tasked with presenting Council with two budget alternatives — one with a tax increase and another without.

“This year’s budget is going to be tight,” Parajon said at a recent Del Ray Business Association meeting. “We’re also predicting a much slower growth rate than we’ve done in the past. As you can imagine, property tax and the growth in our real estate is what drives a lot of our revenue. And we projected that’s going to be a little slower this year.”

Parajon said that city staff is expecting a shallow recession to impact the city this spring, and is eyeing expenditure reductions. So far, the $17 million shortfall is mostly attributed to an increase in city operations, the annual transfer to Alexandria City Public Schools and city debt service.

Mayor Justin Wilson hopes to not increase taxes, and said that inflation pressures impact city government, just like everyone else.

“We have not increased the tax rate in six years and I am hopeful we can avoid any increase this year,” Wilson told ALXnow.

The city is also contending with collective bargaining agreements with the police and fire department unions. Additionally, ACPS faces a $12 million budget shortfall, and wants to give employees raises.

The current FY 2023 budget saw a $445 (6.5%) increase to residential real estate taxes, although the tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value did not change.

City staff are also working on re-timing projects in the city’s 10-year $2.7 billion Capital Improvement Program to “better align with ability of operating budget to absorb costs increases and City’s ability to execute projects,” according to a presentation to Council on Tuesday night (Nov. 22).

Parajon will present his proposed budget on Tuesday, Feb. 28 — a week-and-a-half after the School Board approves its budget request. The budget will be approved in May and go into effect on July 1.

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George Washington Middle School (staff photo by Vernon Miles)

Construction and other capital improvement costs for next fiscal year have increased for Alexandria City Public Schools by millions.

More than $14 million out of the $24 million in cost increases for new and existing capital improvement projects is due to supply chain issues and cost escalations, ACPS staff reported in a presentation to the School Board on Monday (Nov. 14).

Site development cost estimates have increased almost 200%, staff reported.

“There have been industry wide cost escalations on everything,” Erika Gulick, the ACPS executive director of facilities, told the Board. “That affects your groceries and your gasoline and affects construction and steel and concrete and everything else that we use to build our schools.”

In the meantime, the City is wrestling with its own capital improvement cost woes. The city is currently in the process of reevaluating its capital projects over the next decade, and says that CIP costs to the operating budget exceeds anticipated revenue growth.

“Approved capital budgets are larger and more complex than our experienced ability to execute capital projects,” City staff said in a presentation earlier this month. “(The) approved capital improvement program needs to be reassessed and placed on more sustainable path.”

The draft ACPS Capital Improvement Plan budget includes the following projects for FY 2024:

  • $17.4 million for George Mason Elementary School design, project management and other construction costs
  • $5.5 million for the renovation of the fifth and sixth floors of Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School
  • $5.1 million for the retrofit of the swing space at 1703 N. Beauregard Street
  • $5 million for repair work at William Ramsay Elementary School
  • $2.5 million for renovations at Francis C. Hammond Middle School
  • $2 million in transportation system upgrades
  • $1.5 million for emergency repairs
  • $1.3 million for renovations at George Washington Middle School
  • $1.2 million for Alexandria City High School stadium renovations, security enhancements and stormwater improvements
  • $1.2 million for textbook replacements

ACPS will next conduct a community meeting on the FY 2024-2033 CIP budget on Monday, Nov. 28. The Board will approve the CIP on Dec. 15.

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(Left to right) ACPS Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Mayor Justin Wilson, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, ACHS senior Elizabeth Lane and School Board Chair Jacinta Greene at the high school, Nov. 7, 2022 (via Twitter)

After a back-and-forth with city leadership on school safety, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares got a quick tour of Alexandria City High School from the city’s leaders on Monday (Nov. 7).

Miyares toured the school, met with students and city leaders, ate lunch and discussed school safety.

In a joint statement released Monday night, Mayor Justin Wilson and School Board Vice Chair Jacinta Greene said that the health of the school system depends on its relationship with the police department.

“We agree on the importance of students being able to grow and thrive in a safe learning environment and assured him of the close partnership between our school division, Alexandria Police Department and other agencies that promote the well-being of children,” Wilson and Greene wrote.

The meeting was also attended by City Manager Jim Parajon, Police Chief Don Hayes, ACPS Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt and ACHS Executive Principal Peter Balas.

Wilson added, “We thank Attorney General Miyares and his team for their visit and for his offer of any help or support from his office for the City of Alexandria and Alexandria City Public Schools.”

Miyares, in August, wrote a letter to Mayor Justin Wilson and School Board Chair Meagan Aldterton saying that he was alarmed by reports of violence within the school system last year. In his letter, he urged Alexandria to work closely with law enforcement to strengthen the city’s School Resource Officer (SRO) program.

ACPS began the 2021-2022 school year without school resource officers, after they were defunded by the City Council. They were returned after an alarming number of incidents with weapons in schools.

There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured last school year, and 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to a new safety report detailing arrest and security incidents.

After the meeting, Miyares released the following statement:

As the proud product of public schools, I’m particularly passionate about making sure that every public school student not only has access to a quality education, but a safe environment to learn. I’d like to thank Alexandria Mayor Wilson, School Board Chair Alderton and the ACPS officials who invited and welcomed me today.

Today’s meeting was productive and I was able to share some concerns, as well as offer the resources of the Office of Attorney General to support them. Alexandria City High School has amazing students, and I was honored to meet some of them today. I look forward to working together with the Alexandria City officials to make sure parents feel confident that their children will be safe at school. As Attorney General, every Virginia family’s safety is my number one priority.

This Thursday, the School Board will vote on a recommendation extending the ACPS agreement with the Alexandria Police Department to provide SROs until the end of this school year. In December, the School Board will also receive the interim Superintendent’s recommendation on the partnership between ACPS and the police department.

Via Twitter

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School buses on W. Braddock Road on Dec. 10, 2021 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria has started identifying pedestrian safety improvements around Alexandria City High School and a number of other school campuses.

Staff with the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services are creating “walk audits” with available for public review in a final report by next June.

The walk audits will be conducted at both campuses of Alexandria City High School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and at the city’s newest school — Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

“We will be coordinating with the school communities for each of those schools,” said Bryan Hayes, the City’s Complete Streets coordinator. “That’s the principals, teachers, parents, the students… to help identify things that make it challenging or unsafe for students to walk or bike to school.”

It’s all part of Alexandria’s Complete Streets and Safe Routes To School programs, which are devoted to making infrastructure improvements like adding new sidewalks, enhancing crossings and traffic calming.

Five years ago, the City identified 250 transportation improvement recommendations at 13 elementary schools. The city has completed about half of those recommended projects, according to the Department.

Staff will gather data through this winter and spring. To develop recommendations, the Department will have a small team of city staff, consultants, school representatives, and others to observe students walking to schools.

Making the improvements will be a multi-year process, said Alex Carrol, program manager of the City’s Complete Streets project.

“We’ve we’ve tackled a lot of the low hanging fruit in the recommendations,” said Carrol. “These were always intended to be multi-year efforts. I don’t have a specific timeline for when we expect all of the recommendations to be completed, but it is going to be a multi year process.”

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Minnie Howard design renderings, photo via Perkins-Eastman/Alexandria City Public Schools

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) has filed a special use permit to allow it to extend the use of trailers at Alexandria City High School to 2024.

The specific temporary trailers being discussed in the special use permit are those built specifically to accommodate students displaced by the Minnie Howard campus renovation.

The special use permit also notes that, technically, ACPS’s permit to use those trailers has already expired.

“The proposed change is an extension of the August 31, 2022 expiration of the temporary trailers at [Alexandria] City High School until the Minnie Howard campus renovation is complete for adequate space between the Minnie Howard and King Street campuses,” the special use permit said. “The requested extension is for August 31, 2024.”

The Minnie Howard campus expansion — part of a plan to expand capacity at Alexandria City High School — broke ground this March.

The project is scheduled to be completed for the 2024-2025 school year, so there’s a fair chance ACPS will be back for another extension before the expansion is finished.

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Alexandria City Public Schools officials say that their strategies to make school safer are working, although it will take time to tell if they’re right.

Flanked by city, school and police officials, interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said at a student safety forum on Wednesday night that crime incidents are down this school year.

Kay-Wyatt didn’t present data to back up the claim that schools are safer, but said that it’s because of a new identification requirement for students and staff at Alexandria City High School, staggering dismissal times, designating entrances for students and staff at schools, and providing all ACPS students with a mandatory 30 minutes of daily Social and Emotional Learning (SEAL) time.

“While we see that incidents are down, I remain very hopeful,” Kay-Wyatt said. “I believe that it’s (due to) of some of those SEAL lessons that are in place and other supports that we put in place throughout the school year to make sure that we are supporting families and students.”

There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report. The school system is, in fact, using the 2021-2022 school year as a baseline for future improvement.

Transportation-wise, the city recently approved the installation of speed cameras in five school zones, as well as reducing speed limits in school zones to 15 miles per hour. The city is also working on walk audits for potential pedestrian improvements on roadways near Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School, George Washington and Francis C. Hammond Middle Schools, and both ACHS campuses.

By December, Kay-Wyatt will also receive recommendations on a reimagined partnership between ACPS and the police department, the latter of which provides school resource officers to the high school and the city’s middle schools. In the meantime, a proposal will be presented to the School Board to continue the SRO program as it stands until the end of the school year.

“Last year was very challenging, extremely challenging,” John Contreras, ACPS Director of Safety and Security Services, said at the forum. “It was a very challenging year and this year is a bit calmer.”

Contreras also did not present any safety data on this school year.

While the school system might feels safer, it will take time to collect the data to really see what’s working, said School Board Member Abdel Elnoubi, who attended the meeting as an audience member.

“You’ve got to give it time,” Elnoubi said.

One high school student at the event said that SEAL lessons aren’t working, and that the information being presented to the community is being “sugar-coated.”

“They have us do community circles to share our emotions, but it’s high schoolers,” another student said. “Nobody want to talk about how they feel. It’s just an awkward experience.”

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Alexandria City Public Schools leaders will be on-hand tonight (October 26) to discuss school safety.

The conversation starts at 6:30 p.m. at George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue), and speakers on the panel include interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, ACPS Director of Safety and Security Services John Contreras, and Director of School Social Work Faiza Jackson.

The event is hosted by ACPS, the Alexandria Council of PTAs, and Parents for Safe Alexandria Schools, and will be held in the school auditorium. Event organizers caution that the subject matter is “child-sensitive.”

The other panelists are Alexandria Police Officer Richard Sandoval, Alexandria City Gang Prevention Community Task Force Member Mike Mackey, Everytown for Gun Safety’s Be SMART Secure Gun Storage Program Member Andy Corso, and Alex Carrol of the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services.

School safety has been a major issue within ACPS since full in-person schooling resumed at the beginning of the last school year. There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured in the 2021-2022 school year, with 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report.

The school system’s partnership with the Alexandria Police Department also came under intense scrutiny, and a new plan on school resource officers (stationed at Alexandria City High School and the middle schools) will be unveiled to the School Board by mid-December.

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Updated at 5:55 p.m. The Alexandria School Board on Friday (October 20) received a recommendation to extend its agreement with the Alexandria Police Department to provide school resource officers at the city’s high school and middle schools until  the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

The School Board will vote on the matter at its upcoming meeting on Thursday, November 10.

The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the school system and police department was set to expire at the end of this month. By mid-December, the School Board will also receive interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt recommendations on the reimagined partnership. Those recommendations will have been guided by the School Law Enforcement Partnership (SLEP) Advisory Group.

“The SLEP advisory group may recommend changes to the MOU as part of their overall recommendations to the School Board in December 2022/January 2023,” Alicia Hart, the ACPS chief of facilities and operations, wrote in a memo to the School Board. “To this end, we are recommending extending the current MOU with APD through the end of June 2023. This extension will allow time to account for any potential recommendations that may come from the SLEP advisory group process as well as completion of the public comment process related to the review of the MOU.”

School safety has been a major focus within ACPS since full in-person schooling resumed at the beginning of the last school year.

ACPS began the 2021-2022 school year without school resource officers, after they were defunded by the City Council in last year’s budget. The first few months of the school year were punctuated by incidents with weapons in schools, prompting School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and then-Superintendent Gregory Hutchings to successfully plead to Council for SROs to return in October 2021.

Two months later, two SROs at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus were put on administrative leave after being accused of having inappropriate sexual conversations with a former student. The school ended up not having SROs stationed at the King Street campus for the remainder of the school year.

There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured last school year, and 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to an ACPS safety report.

Police Chief Don Hayes says that police are needed to contend with crews of violent kids within the school system, and Kay-Wyatt said that she will work collaboratively with the police to keep schools safe.

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A 15-year-old Alexandria City High School student was arrested after being found with an “edged weapon,” according to police.

The incident occurred at around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 13. The male student was searched, a weapon was allegedly confiscated and he was arrested.

Police provided no other details on the weapon.

There were no other arrests in connection to this incident, and there were no injuries.

ACHS has more than 4,100 students and is the largest high school in Virginia. Last school year, 46 students were arrested, 68 students were injured and 13 weapons were seized. The weapons included a gun, five knives, a stun gun, two fake weapons and pepper spray.

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City leaders are arranging to meet Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares next month in response to an effort to curb violence within Alexandria City Public Schools.

The discussion with Mayor Justin Wilson, School Board Chair Meagan Alderton and interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt was initiated in August, when Miyares sent a letter offering the support of his office.

The meeting is tentatively planned for early November, according to sources.

Miyares wrote that he was prompted by numerous violent incidents, especially the murder of Alexandria City High School Student Luis Hernandez Mejia in the Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot in May.

“Given the high level of violence and disruption that has taken place, I urge you to work more closely with local law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, and the local Commonwealth Attorney as partners in preventing and reporting violent criminal behavior in, and around, our schools,” Miyares wrote in the letter. “I realize the City of Alexandria’s elected officials have not always supported the concept of SROs (school resource officers). However, I’m glad that SROs have been reinstated at some of your schools, and I encourage you to strengthen your commitment to these dedicated men and women, and to proactively reject arguments against their presence in the City’s schools.”

There were 46 students arrested and 68 injured last school year, and 194 incidents that provoked a police response, according to a new safety report detailing arrest and security incidents.

Wilson and Alderton responded by inviting Miyares to Alexandria, and in his own letter outlined a number of ways Richmond can help.

In December, the School Board will also receive the interim Superintendent’s recommendation on the partnership between ACPS and the police department.

In the meantime, the city and governor’s office remain at odds over Governor Glenn Youngkin’s proposed new policies restricting transgender bathroom and pronoun use. Wilson has said that the city will likely enter into litigation against the restrictions.

Wilson said that the transgender policy issues will likely not be discussed with Miyares.

“I cannot imagine the transgender inclusion policies will be part of the discussion,” Wilson told ALXnow. “But you never know.”

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