Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Libby Garvey

The following are the responses incumbent school board candidate Libby Garvey (www.libbygarvey.org) gave to the HeraldTrib's survey. --ST

Question 1: Little was changed after last year's process to alleviate overcrowding in a few north Arlington elementary schools. Many parents were angry that county-wide programs at Arlington Traditional School and Drew Model School were removed from the charge that the Elementary Crowding and Capacity Committee considered when looking for solutions to overcrowding. The school board has pledged to continue the process of looking at capacity issues.

Will the school board have to consider admissions priorities or moving/relocating ATS and Drew while looking at overcrowding issues in the coming year or two, why or why not?

The School Board has already begun the process of looking at these issues for the next go around. We directed staff to examine ways of balancing enrollment without moving boundaries. I am very sure changes to ATS and Drew will be among the many things our staff looks at. That report should come to us in June.

I discussed this issue back in January when I was putting issues up on my website. At the time, I had hoped we would be able to resolve the crowding issue with that process, but we did not. Your readers might like to look at the whole piece on my website www.libbygarvey.org but I've excerpted some below to explain my thinking:

"One issue that came up during the process was a request by the Committee to change the charge and allow changes in admissions policies for Arlington Traditional School and Drew. That was a difficult vote and I drew on my years of experience both before and after being on the School Board to make my decision to deny that request. I agree that admissions policies need to be examined, but did not agree that they should be looked at in the context of this process. It was simply too complex to handle well in the time given and also craft a crowding solution."

Question 2: What specific initiatives would you develop or enhance to ensure capital projects stay on time and at—or under—budget?

When I came on the Board we instituted a number of initiatives and those have worked well to keep our projects on time and on budget. We've got a well thought out capital improvement program (CIP) and we need to keep it on track. Sometimes people do not understand that our CIP document is a planning document. Budgets for projects are not firm until they are bonded. What is firm in our CIP are the projects for the bond we are requesting. What is still in planning, and could be changed, are the projects further out. Sometimes people feel that the costs and projects we have in the further our planning stage should be firm and get upset when they change. A good plan that goes out that far is always being adjusted and change is to be expected.

We have good experience now with buildings and know much better what to expect than we did a decade ago. We know we need to include a 7% escalator for costs because costs go up every year. We also include a 5% contingency fund for each project because there are always surprises in major construction, as I suspect every homeowner who has renovated their home knows all too well. We know we need a construction manager for every project. And we know we need to hire good construction firms to do the work.

My biggest concern going forward is that we now have large projects and are beginning to involve the County in these projects. County involvement is important and can be very helpful, but County processes are very long and cumbersome. We are working on developing a process by which we can work together. This is our 3rd attempt to do so. I am hopeful, but worried that the County is used to taking a lot more time than we do, and this costs money. The County also does not have written down, as we do, guidelines for our buildings and clear statements of our processes to design those buildings. The County is working on that for this process and, again, I am hopeful this can work to make the process more clear and efficient. We on the school side are very aware that "time is money" and that our children are growing fast -- if we take too much time thinking about a project, a whole generation of children has moved through the school. The County side is much more used to working with developers, so it is not taxpayer money that is at stake. And they are not used to firm and fast deadlines as we are. When school starts, we have to have a building for all our students. A library or community center simply does not have the same time and deadline issues.

I know there is much discussion about not having enough money for capital projects. I firmly believe Arlington has enough money to do all the projects we need to do. We do not have enough money to do all the projects we want to do. I believe we need a good public discussion of all the projects we have in order to determine a priority order that makes sense for this county. In other words, there are not County projects and Schools projects, there are just Arlington projects. Whatever gets done first is most important, second is second important etc. etc. Whether those projects are schools or curbs and gutters or fire stations needs to be determined by what is needed the most.

Question 3. Most of you have on your web site, in one form or another, concerns with the "achievement gap" between whites and minorities in the schools. Please consider the achievement gap in terms of a budgeting priority. Of the money that the school board controls (i.e., not "entitlement" monies from the state or federal government that must go toward specific programs), which program would you defend as having the highest priority in a shrinking budget and why?

Our budget is not shrinking at the moment. Neither is the County's. The School Board has said that its highest priority is attracting and retaining top teaching staff. Student educational achievement is most affected by the quality of teaching. We need to stay focussed on student achievement and make sure we do not get pulled off that focus by other interests and concerns. Maintaining our focus on student achievement over the past decade is why our school system has made good progress and is now nationally recognized as being among the top in the nation.

Question 4: Democrats will endorse only two of you on May 1 and 3. If you are one of the four not endorsed, will you stay in the race? If so, what is your strategy beyond that date, given the strength conferred with the endorsement to the two winners?

I will not stay in the race. I, and all the other candidates running for the endorsement, have pledged not to oppose the Democratic endorsee in the fall. I intend to keep my pledge so this question is moot for me.

Therefore, I need everyone's vote if I am to continue to serve. I very much want to provide the continuity I think we need on our School Board to keep our schools strong. Come January, I will have 12 years of experience on the School Board, and the other 4 members will have 6 years combined. This is a crucial election. It will determine the direction our schools will take for the future. I hope I will have the support of the Buckingham neighborhood and ask for everyone's vote on May 1 or May 3.

Again, thank you for informing your neighborhood about this important election.

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