Arlington’s likely next School Board member says her future colleagues need to pump the brakes and consider scaling back grandiose plans for the Arlington Career Center site.
In a Sept. 14 forum sponsored by the Arlington County Civic Federation, Mary Kadera said existing concepts strike her as “very ambitious and costly,” particularly given questions whether the school system’s growth trajectory will return after being derailed in the COVID era.
“We are in a period of enrollment instability,” Kadera said in response to a question on the Career Center’s future. “[I] question the wisdom of making a big investment. I’m looking for solutions that deliver more bang for the buck in terms of capacity.”
Additions to existing schools would in many cases be more cost-effective than new construction, she said.
The Career Center site, located just north of Columbia Pike and currently featuring a large surface parking lot, long has been viewed by school leaders as a prime spot in which to shoehorn in new facilities, including potentially a new school. Plans for the site likely will figure prominently in the system’s updated capital-improvement program to be voted on by School Board members next spring.
School officials long have projected that growth will push the school system past the 30,000-student mark in coming years, but COVID’s impact may call into question that projection.
Arlington Public Schools’ first-day-of-class attendance figure of 26,932 was 37 students higher than the official 2020-21 count, but down about 4 percent from the pre-COVID attendance figure of 27,996 reported in September 2019, as some parents abandoned Arlington’s public schools for private schools, home-schooling or other jurisdictions that were more friendly to in-person learning. How many of them are likely to come back to the county’s public schools remains to be seen.
Kadera won the Democratic endorsement in a two-way race in the spring, becoming the odds-on favorite to replace Monique O’Grady, who opted not to seek a second term.
Also on the Nov. 2 ballot is independent Major Mike Webb. Webb skipped the Arlington Committee of 100 debate held a week earlier, but did participate in the Civic Federation debate.
Webb said he was running in part because no candidates of color stepped up to make the race, but beyond that largely went off on tangents about the pandemic in response to questions.
“I’ve got the experience” to tackle the COVID crisis, Webb said.