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1703 N. Beauregard Street (via Google Maps)

Students and parents are facing years upheaval in Alexandria’s West End, as the city’s school system is planning on completely rebuilding two elementary schools within the decade.

Alexandria City Public Schools plans to redesign an office building at 1703 N. Beauregard Street to be used as swing space while George Mason Elementary School (2601 Cameron Mills Road) and Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology (3600 Commonwealth Avenue) are completely rebuilt.

Barring construction holdups, a newly built George Mason could be up and running by fall 2026, staff said in a community meeting on Monday night. That means that, at a minimum, the next two years will be spent planning and retrofitting the office building into a school, with George Mason students to transition to swing space in fall 2024. Cora Kelly students would then move to the swing space in fall 2027, while their new school is under construction, and they would move into a newly built school in fall 2031.

“The most aggressive schedule that we have is showing the fall of 2026 [for George Mason students to return],” Azjargal Bartlett, director of ACPS capital programs, said in a community meeting Monday night. “These are anticipated timelines, and if there is any change to the schedule we’ll communicate that out.”

The property at 1703 N. Beauregard Street is directly across the street from Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School (1701 N. Beauregard Street), which is also a converted office building.

Bartlett said that ACPS is working with the remaining tenants on “mutually beneficial solutions for them to vacate the building prior to the start of the construction,” she said.

The school system is considering staggered dismissal times to minimize traffic between Ferdinand T. Day and the swing space, as well as busing students to the new school.

“We are anticipating that the transportation will be provided to all the students when the building is being used for swing space,” Bartlett said.

Timeline of swing space use for 1703 N. Beauregard Street in the West End. (via ACPS)

So far, $24.5 million has been allocated to the project in the city’s 10-year Capital Improvement Program, with an additional $5 million that is going into the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget.

Between now and then, a lot of planning and design work with the architect, Perkins Eastman, has to happen, like adding outdoor and playground space at 1703 N. Beauregard.

“We’re still working through that we do not have any options to present at this time,” Bartlett said. “We are in discussions with our design team and once we have more information we’ll provide an update early next year on that design progress for the swing space.”

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Money on a table (staff photo via Vernon Miles)

Alexandria’s revenue tax is growing, but too sluggishly to keep pace with the expenditures — leading to a $17 million shortfall as the city heads into budget season.

That estimate, from Mayor Justin Wilson’s monthly newsletter, is slightly lower than the estimate from a City Council meeting in November, but still presents a substantial challenge for city leadership attempting hold off on a tax rate increase.

Wilson said Alexandria’s budget is built around real estate taxes, which are growing but with some worrying signs.

“In Virginia, the structure of municipal finance is heavily reliant on real estate taxes,” Wilson wrote. “Consequentially, in Alexandria the real estate market, both residential and commercial, dictates our budgetary fate. Last year, we saw the healthiest growth in our real estate tax base in over 15 years. Yet, in the past year, mortgage rates have more than doubled. It’s hard to imagine that such an increase will not eventually impact our real estate market.”

Real estate tax revenue is projected to increase by 1.2% — which Wilson called a “return to the anemic growth that characterized much of the last decade and a half.”

Wilson said residential taxpayers are already paying more due to appreciation in the residential tax base, and adding a tax rate increase on top of that would add an even greater burden to local residents.

“I believe we should again work to avoid a rate increase while protecting the core services our residents depend on,” Wilson wrote. “Last year was the 6th budget in a row without a tax rate increase and I am hopeful we can continue that pattern.”

And yet, the city will have to find a way to close the $16.1 million shortfall. That shortfall is mostly attributed to an increase in city operations, the annual transfer to Alexandria City Public Schools and city debt service.

The approved 2023 budget and proposed 2024 budget (via City of Alexandria)

“With these revenue estimates and expenditure estimates, this brings us to a projected revenue shortfall of $16.1 million,” Wilson wrote. “Given that our local budget must be balanced, that shortfall must be resolved with either spending reductions, tax increases or some combination of the two.”

City Manager Jim Parajon, who warned City Council last month that “the budget is going to be tight,” is scheduled to present a budget to Council on Feb. 28.

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Empty desks at Alexandria City High School (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City Public Schools is in the initial stages of organizing a collective bargaining effort for thousands of its employees.

The school system has more than 2,400 employees and pays $11.6 million in salaries, with funds approved by the City Council. That means that any agreement reached between ACPS staffers and the school system will have to be approved by Council.

“In this case, you’re going to be negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for about 80% of your costs,” Mayor Justin Wilson said at a joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee meeting on Monday (Nov. 28).

Wilson continued, “Without some special structure put together, you’re going to be doing so without coordination with the entity that is going to pay those bills. So, I think we need to figure out how we hold hands and put together a process where we can all do this together somehow.”

The news comes shortly after the city and police department came to a collective bargaining agreement. As part of that agreement, which was nearly a year in the making, police officers will get significant salary raises, as well as bonuses for longevity and specialized skills.

Education Association of Alexandria President Dawn Lucas says that her organization is ready to get to work.

“We are ready and willing to work closely during this process,” Lucas told the School Board on Nov. 10. “We believe that having strong collective bargaining will make us more competitive than other school divisions when it comes to retaining and recruiting the very best educators and staff.”

In the meantime, the school system is proposing a 2.64% step increase and 2.5% market rate adjustment for all staff in the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget. Healthcare costs are also projected to increase 8% and dental care costs will increase 2%.

Interim Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt told Wilson that she will work closely with City Manager Jim Parajon’s office in creating a collective bargaining structure. No timeline has yet been presented.

“We will keep you informed as we are educating our staff on what it’s going to look at , as well as a timeline,” Kay-Wyatt said.

City Council adopted its collective bargaining ordinance last year.

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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 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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