The Arlington Public School District is about to embark on what must be the biggest five-year construction project in its history. The school board will be asking voters to approve much of the $538 million cost by issuing new bonds over the next four years.
So when the board held its first official public hearing on the Capital Improvement Plan on Thursday night, one might expect to hear a lot of public opinion.
Only two people signed up to speak.
The first, Susan Poland, who sits on the schools Budget Advisory Council and is a former PTA president at Arlington Traditional School, asked the board to consider expanding the Reed school building to house a middle-school expansion of the ATS magnet program. ATS will get an addition with 12 new classrooms and almost 700 students, which Poland thinks will ruin the school.
The second speaker, Lincoln Oliphant, told the board that a new elementary school planned for the Williamsburg Middle School site would put three elementaries within a mile of each other. “I think you’re going to find there’s just too many schools in too small an area,” he said.
Two scheduled speakers was “a relatively small group,” said board member Todd McCracken today. “But I also think there’s been a lot of opportunity up to now to attend meetings and for people to speak and ask questions.”
Other citizens came to speak during a second public comment sesion, a general comment period held before every biweekly board meeting. Several were there to object to the district putting new trailer classrooms on green play space at Jamestown Elementary, to handle an increase in enrollment in the fall.
Another speaker, Monique O’Grady, head of the Arlington Montessori Action Committee, told the board that demand far exceeds the number of seats in the Drew Model School Montessori program -- sibling preference took 37 of 40 spots in the 3-year-olds classes, leaving only two seats for 229 non-sibling applicants, she said.
O’Grady asked for more classes at Drew, and for the board to make the new magnet elementary planned on Kenmore Middle/Carlin Springs Elementary property -- part of the CIP -- a full Montessori school.
“I can assure you, if you build it, they will come,” she said.
McCracken said today that the board has been considering the Montessori magnet idea, but that the ATS middle school concept is new and might get some thought.
Overall, the small number of speakers is a good sign, he said.
“Usually you think no news is good news,” he said. “If people are happy you generally don’t hear from them.”