Tysons Corner, VA

Mothers Out Front Fairfax, the local climate change branch of a national movement, is advocating for electric school buses in Fairfax County.

More than 40 people gathered at a room in the Patrick Henry Library (101 E. Maple Avenue) in the Town of Vienna for the “Clean Buses for Kids” campaign launch last evening (Tuesday).

Bobby Monacella, the co-leader of Mothers Out Front Fairfax and the mother of two kids attending the county’s public schools, told the attendees that electric buses seem like a “no brainer.”

“They are safer. They’re healthier. They are less expensive to expensive to operate. The maintenance is much less. The cost of electricity versus diesel is much less,” Monacella said.

She added that the push for electric school buses needs to start now because of the life cycle of diesel school buses.

“It made us realize we simply can’t buy one more diesel school bus because it lasts us 15 years and with the cost of fuel emissions, our kids’ future can’t wait for that,” she said.

Since electric school buses don’t have an engine, muffler or alternator that requires tune-ups, the lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses total $170,000, according to a Mothers Out Front Fairfax press release.

Some places around the country have already made the switch from diesel to electric school fleets, including schools in California and New York.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) runs one of the largest school bus fleets in the U.S. with more than 1,600 buses.

Karl Frisch, the Democratic candidate for the Providence District seat on the FCPS School Board, said that a switch to electric buses would attract companies, further diversifying businesses in the county.

Pat Hynes, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the school board, told Tysons Reporter that the cost of switching to electric buses is the main challenge facing the school board.

“I think it really comes down to the upfront cost not only for the buses, which are three times more expensive than the diesel buses, there’s also an investment that has to made in the infrastructure,” Hynes said, adding that the buses would need chargers.

Hynes said that “it’s a win, win, win” if the local government partners with the state government and also the local utility company to help defray the upfront costs.

Overall, Hynes said she thinks the school board will support the campaign as long as the electric buses aren’t more expensive than diesel-fueled ones in the long term.

“Every statement that the board has made in the last couple years in favor of taking some leadership on climate change has been supported almost unanimously,” Hynes said.

The school board and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors also jointly formed the Joint Environmental Task Force to lead on climate action, Hynes said, adding that the task force will hold its inaugural meeting on Sept. 3 at the Mason District Government Center (6507 Columbia Pike).

“That is where policy will begin for both boards — the school board and the county board,” she said.

Del. Mark Keam (D-35th District) said that the conversation about electric buses should be broadened beyond talking about the environment.

“This isn’t about Julie taking care of her daughter or me taking care of my kids… It’s about Mother Earth suffering,” Keam said. “That’s why I think this conversation should start and end with the bigger picture of climate change and where we are with this crisis.”

At the end of the campaign launch, the group urged attendees to sign a petition urging the school board to buy a test bus in 2020 and request a small number of electric buses by 2021.

The group aims to replace FCPS buses with electric ones by 2024.

“When moms get involved, things happen,” Keam said to cheers.

0 Comments

Dozens of protesters showed up last night to the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

Before the school board got around to discussing the proposal, the meeting room was packed with protesters. Police blocked the door, telling a crowd of about 30 people outside that they could not go into the room, which had reportedly reached its capacity.

The discussion on the proposal was delayed by an hour and a half as staff worked to set up overflow seating with live streaming of the work session in the cafeteria.

Around 7:30 p.m., Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, kicked off the discussion on the proposal with a presentation.

The draft policy would look at a new set of criteria for prompting and then establishing school boundaries. Once a school boundary change has been identified, some of the new criteria to create the new boundary include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft. The proposal would also get rid of the expedited boundary process.

Throughout the meeting, protesters in the room waved signs saying “Communities Build Great Schools NOT Boundary Changes” and “Education Excellence NOT Social Engineering.” Several of the protesters said that they thought the process behind how the proposal was created was not transparent enough.

School board members, however, had mixed reactions to the proposal.

“I very much support opening the boundary,” Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative, said.

School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said that “significant growth” in the Dulles Corridor and Tysons area that will impact schools — some of which are currently overcrowded in the Tysons area — and questioned if an outside consultant could help the board and community, since “there seems to be a bit of a disconnect that people don’t feel like we have let people in about what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about equitable access outlined in the proposal.

At-Large Member Ilryong Moon said that he’s not convinced that the proposal is an improvement after asking for an example of “equitable access to educational opportunities” and Platenberg told him that school boundaries could change to prevent program placement in different schools.

Elizabeth Schultz, the Springfield District representative, heavily criticized the proposal — to the joy of the protesters in attendance — by questioning the legality of deciding to establish a boundary based on a kid’s socioeconomic background or race.

“The notion that we would identify a child and the neighborhood that child lives in and target them for a boundary change based on the color of their skin or the size of their parents’ bank account is a frightening prospect on legality alone considering the number of legal issues the board has,” Schultz said. “I don’t know why we’re going here.”

Schultz also said that she thinks the overcrowding at certain schools should be addressed on a case-by-case basis rather than through a new countywide boundary policy.

“I don’t think it’s fair to the community,” Schultz said.

Dalia Palchik, the Providence District representative, said that she wants the board to talk more about equitable access and continue the discussion on the board level, rather than in subcommittees.

“Boundaries are always going to be a challenge,” she said.

Next, staff will answer questions that the school board members asked. The school board is then slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Overall, Palchik said, “We’re moving in the right direction.”

0 Comments

Tonight (Monday), the Fairfax County School Board is set to discuss a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

The draft policy on the table would look at a new set of criteria for establishing school boundaries. They include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft.

Some critics of the proposal pointed to the removal of criteria — such as “instructional effectiveness”– for boundary change considerations as a possible threat to property owners.

The meeting is set to start at 5 p.m. tonight at 8115 Gatehouse Road, Room 1600 with the redistricting proposal slated for 6 p.m. on the agenda.

The board is then slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Image via Google Maps

0 Comments

A bond referendum coming up in November could help fund capacity additions for James Madison High School in Vienna.

The Fairfax County School Board approved the request for the Board of Supervisors to put a $360 million bond referendum on the November 2019 ballot. Much of the items in the referendum focus on mitigating chronic capacity problems.

Madison is one of 11 high schools in Fairfax that is over 100 percent capacity.

Two other high schools — Justice and West Potomac — are also set to receive additions through the referendum, while Falls Church High School is scheduled for upcoming renovations.

According to the FY 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP):

Capacity enhancement additions are needed at West Potomac High School, Justice High School, and Madison High School to accommodate forecasted capacity needs. The relocation of three modular additions is also proposed to provide additional capacity relief to schools in need.

While the budget does not list specifics on the James Madison High School, the CIP says capacity enhancements could include interior modifications, modular additions and temporary classrooms.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments

The Providence District Democratic Committee has voted to endorse Karl Frisch to represent the Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board.

The incumbent Providence District School Board Member Dalia Palchik is currently embroiled in her own heated race for the Board of Supervisors, leaving the School Board seat open to a competitive election.

Frisch is a Democratic strategist and the executive director of Allied Progress, a non-profit issue advocacy organization in D.C.

The committee voted 127 in favor of Frisch and 79 for the other candidate, Jung Byun.

The centerpiece of Frisch’s campaign was applying the principals of the Green New Deal to Fairfax schools, making the schools operate in a more environmentally friendly way. Frisch’s proposals include adding more solar panels to school buildings and converting to electric school buses.

Byun congratulated Frisch on Twitter after the race and encouraged her supporters to back Frisch in the general election on Nov. 5.

Photo via Facebook

0 Comments

In what is a best-case scenario for an elected official, County Supervisor John Foust and others at last week’s Fairfax County Budget meeting in McLean said the new year’s spending plan has been fairly uncontroversial.

“In prior years it’s been much more controversial,” said Foust. “The budget this year seems to be generally accepted. People are happy that we’re holding the tax rate flat and I know people are thrilled that we’re able to fully fund the school operating budget.”

Others in the McLean Citizens Association said that the biggest talking point in the audience was concern over the McLean High School overcrowding, which is currently a School Board issue rather than a County Board one.

Foust noted that a leader of a local parent group spoke up and asked Superintendent Scott Brabrand about redistricting the school. At a School Board meeting last week, Brabrand said an update on solutions for McLean High School overcrowding would be released sometime in March.

Foust said 3.8 percent revenue growth, much of it driven by new development in Tysons, has given the Board flexibility to fund the School Board’s budget and funding for county priorities like gang and opioid prevention efforts. Foust said some of the biggest new items in this year’s budget are a series of environmental initiatives to address climate-change related issues.

But Foust also said one of the biggest criticisms of the budget has been that it doesn’t give enough to the county’s affordable housing programs.

“One issue that is not funded the way advocates would like to see funded is affordable housing,” said Foust. “There’s been so little concern expressed about this budget, but the extent that I’ve heard has been that we need to do more about affordable housing. I think the Board of Supervisors agrees and we’re working on that.”

Foust also said that there are concerns about the budget skipping a pay-raise for employees.

“There are concerns by employees that as advertised the Board does not pay full market rate adjustment to county employees,” said Foust. “We’re looking at our options to see if there’s anything to help find money in the budget to pay a little bit more.”

Public budget meetings are being held in each of Fairfax’s districts, but anyone wishing to address the Board of Supervisors directly regarding the budget is invited to speak at public hearings on April 9 and 11.

0 Comments

After killing the boundary change proposal to relieve McLean High School, the Fairfax County School Board is currently beginning discussions on a broader redistricting effort. But as it does, it’s having trouble escaping the shadow of McLean’s overcrowding.

“I’ve received a number of letters about the McLean area saying that they had a meeting and that staff members were there and there were decisions made,” Karen Keys-Gamarra, an at-large member of the School Board, said in work session on Monday. “In the letters I’ve received, they are expecting to get this boundary change, it’s just a matter of time, so they want to know why the Board is dragging its feet. I think we need a statement in a more official capacity.”

Overcrowding at McLean High School has been a contentious topic made worse by nearby Langley High School’s under-capacity status following extensive renovations.

Dranesville District Representative Jane Strauss had put forward a plan to shift some students in McLean High School’s feeders — elementary and middle schools whose students are planned to attend McLean High School — to Langley. But the plan faced pushback from other members, who said McLean High School needed to wait for the broader redistricting to take effect.

As the School Board is putting together its priorities, Fairfax County Superintendent Scott Brabrand said he will work on putting together more information for the McLean community.

“My own view is I want to work with the Board and get goals and prioritization clear before making boundary decisions,” said Brabrand. “I get that there’s tension, but I think we need to build this transparency… [this process] is based on prioritized factors or goals. When that’s done, then we can begin going through the boundary decisions to include that pyramid.”

School staff said the ongoing challenge is that any school-level changes that get made to address immediate overcrowding could conflict with the countywide plans being developed. Staff noted that a new modular facility will be installed at McLean High School, but that it will not eliminate overcrowding at the school.

But Brabrand assured McLean parents that the update would likely come within the month.

“In March, we will put together goals and hope to have a framework in place before the school year ends,” said Brabrand. “It could impact the 2021 school year.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

0 Comments

The Fairfax County School Board is looking for a new student voice.

Every year, a high school student is selected to serve as a representative on the School Board.

Applications for the position are currently available online and are due March 18.

“The student representative is not a member of the School Board but serves in a nonvoting, advisory capacity, representing the interests of the students of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS),” according to a post by FCPS.

The student representative will be required to attend meetings and engage in discussions with members of the School Board. According to the school board bylaws, the student representative will receive compensation for their participation in meetings, but not to exceed $50 per day.

Students in grades 9, 10, and 11 are eligible for the position.

Applicants will need to attend the election convention at Edison High School on April 11 and speak in front of the Student Advisory Council’s student delegates. The delegates will then elect a representative to the board.

Photo via FCPS

0 Comments

Morning Notes

School Board Advertises $3 Billion Budget — “The Fairfax County School Board has adopted the FY 2020 Advertised Budget of $3.0 billion, an increase of 4.1 percent, or $117.4 million, over the FY 2019 Approved Budget. The FY 2020 budget prioritizes employee compensation with a $55.2 million investment in teacher salary scales that includes a 1.0 percent market scale adjustment.” [Connection Newspapers]

Auditions for Vienna Theater — The Vienna Theatre Company is holding auditions tonight for its upcoming production of “Ripcord.” [Facebook]

Author Talk at Tysons Book Store — Bestselling fantasy novelist Larry Correia will be holding a book discussion and signing tonight at the Barnes & Noble store in Tysons. [Instagram]

0 Comments

The Fairfax County School Board approved the FY 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) on Jan. 24, and the much talked about boundary adjustment to relieve the overcrowded McLean High School didn’t make the cut.

The CIP shows that McLean High School is currently at 114 percent of its capacity, with projections showing the population increasing to 127 percent by 2022. Meanwhile, the nearby Langley High School sits at 82 percent capacity following an extensive renovation.

Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative on the School Board, had been spearheading the effort to make the boundary adjustments but faced pushback from other School Board members. Strauss confirmed that the boundary adjustment wasn’t docketed in the CIP and the boundary change won’t happen until the 2022-2023 school year at the earliest, and that’s assuming the item is successfully added to next year’s CIP.

Strauss said the growth of Tysons is going to continue fueling expansion in nearby schools, and the schools are caught between the urgency of that growth and taking time to start the shifts as early as possible to keep school groups together.

“The tall high-rises are not producing kids, but existing housing stock is,” said Strauss, nothing that committed workforce affordable housing included in some of the new developments will likely mean an increase in students as well. “Drive around the greater Tysons area and there are other apartment complexes now because of the Silver Line. As job opportunities grow, the whole region will be a better place to live.”

Other school board members said they were uncomfortable approving a spot-boundary change before the School Board conducts a broader boundary examination on Feb. 25.

“I do have concerns about doing a limited boundary change in one area without taking a more holistic analysis and approach,” said Tamara Derenak Kaufax, a representative from the Lee District, at a Jan. 14 work session. “We’re going to have to do what staff has been advocating, doing a holistic approach to [the] system and looking at the impacts.”

Some McLean High School parents were unenthusiastic about the School Board’s decision.

“Sadly, no concrete proposals to address [McLean High School] crowding were added with the final revisions,” said Susan Garrahan, a parent to a McLean High School sophomore. “Some other Board members countered that the McLean-Langley boundary adjustment study should be rolled into a countywide boundary project set to start in late February, and that is what happened. Perhaps this will lead to a remedy for MHS on the same timetable as if it were just a McLean-Langley boundary adjustment project, but if it takes longer as part of a countywide project — and I think that is likely — it will be the students and staff who pay the price of overcrowding every additional day that it takes.”

Strauss also noted that this boundary is a more specific adjustment between neighboring schools than what is usually covered in the broader boundary changes.

“In some cases, boundary changes cast a wide net across multiple schools,” said Strauss. “Looking at the CIP, it shows that Langley High School has room.”

Furthermore, if Langley High School remains below its capacity, Strauss said its class choices might be more limited than other high schools.

“When schools are under-enrolled, you start to have staffing concerns,” said Strauss. “If you’re under-enrolled and yet still have a desire to offer certain languages or electives, you have to hire teachers [for those classes]. But if you’re under-enrolled, you’re not automatically considered for hiring new teachers. There is a benefit [of the boundary change] for an under-enrolled school.”

Though the boundary changes aren’t on the table for short-term changes, Strauss said new modular additions are still possible for the school.

“We can take those out where they are no longer needed and move them,” said Strauss. “There’s always enough funding in the CIP for that.”

Whether or not the School Board is involved in official plans to make boundary changes, Strauss said she is still planning on meeting with the community to develop solutions.

A McLean High School Parent Teacher Student Association meeting on overcrowding is scheduled for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7 p.m. at McLean High School, though as happened earlier this month, icy conditions could postpone the meeting. Strauss said she plans to meet with Langley High School parents for a similar discussion in March.

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

6 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list