Housing for Everyone

Annie Gowen's Sept. 29 article "Arlington, Developers Negotiate" begs the question: Why did Arlington establish an Affordable Housing Roundtable and feign soliciting community input if the county manager and developers are negotiating backroom deals?

Arlington residents are saying loud and clear that developers need to make substantial affordable housing contributions in exchange for the densities and benefits they receive. The development community needs to step up and take into account the human costs of its business.

Arlington's low-income tenants face the harsh reality of the affordable housing crisis every day. In the past year, Arlington lost almost 2,000 market-rate affordable units to condo conversions and demolition. Landlords quietly slip eviction notices under tenants' doors to make way for luxury condos and force tenants to search for apartments from a dwindling supply of affordable housing. We cannot live on as a community that does not put its people first.

Arlington and developers need to take strong measures to preserve and create housing that is affordable to residents of every income level.

Kristin Carbone

Program director,

Buyers and Renters

Arlington Voice (BRAVO)

Alexandria's Cost Per Pupil

As part of our fiduciary duty to provide efficient and effective educational services to the Alexandria community, the School Board recently voted to participate in the Governor's Efficiency Review. Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet's letter on this topic contained a number of inaccuracies and distortions of the facts ["Audit Alexandria's Schools . . . ," Extra, Sept. 22].

First, in 11 years on the board I have never had a communication from Mr. Van Fleet regarding an efficiency review.

What is the per pupil cost for Alexandria's students? The $17,350 figure cited by Mr. Van Fleet must have included capital costs. The actual per pupil expenditure for the 2004-05 school year was $14,771. Comparison figures cited by Mr. Van Fleet for per pupil spending do not include capital costs. In addition, the $8,000 figure for per pupil spending in the state and the nation is misleading in that most school districts are small and rural, with lower costs and lower educational expectations than in urban areas such as Northern Virginia.

How do our operating expenses compare with similar jurisdictions? In Northern Virginia, Alexandria schools' per pupil costs are very similar to the costs in Arlington ($16,037) and Falls Church ($14,327). Fairfax County ($10,928) has slightly lower costs and a significantly smaller percentage of special education, non-English speaking and lower-income students -- all of whom are more costly to educate.

Costs are lower in other parts of the state primarily because of teacher salaries, which are more than $55,000 in Northern Virginia -- compared with $40,000 in other Virginia cities and in the $30,000s in some rural counties. Alexandria's small class sizes, which have been an important factor in the accreditation of 87 percent of our schools, also add to our per pupil costs.

Why do we receive such a small amount of state funding? The state has a formula called the composite index that is based on a locality's ability to pay for schools. This formula indicates that all Northern Virginia school districts -- including Alexandria, Arlington, Falls Church, Loudoun County and Fairfax -- are able to pay a high percentage of the costs of schools from local revenue.

This state funding covers the bare minimum, not our small class sizes, not our competitive teacher salaries and not our wide array of advanced high school coursework. We must pay for those services and others, in addition to the 80 percent we pay for all requirements.

Mr. Van Fleet asks but doesn't answer the question: "How much of what we spend in Alexandria actually ends up in the classroom?" Because he refers to the National Center for Education Statistics, he might easily have answered his own question. According to the center's Web site, Alexandria spends 62 percent of its resources on instruction and 10 percent on student support services. Because support services include librarians, who are part of direct instruction in many of our schools, the percentage spent on direct student instruction is very close to the ideal of 65 percent cited by Mr. Van Fleet.

It is important to point out another important statistic related to the ability or capacity of the community to pay for educational services. In an August report by the Virginia Education Association, Alexandria is rated third in its capacity to pay for education and 107th in effort. Alexandria is a wealthy community, and yet we have a financially and educationally needy student body in our schools. The federal No Child Left Behind Act will require more intensive instruction for those students not passing the Standards of Learning tests now, and that intensive instruction is likely to be costly.

In the past, Alexandrians have been generous in their support of our schools and our students. Let us hope that the richest citizens in our community will not turn their backs on our neediest and most vulnerable residents, our children, in the upcoming budget debate.

Mary "Mollie" Danforth


Alexandria School Board