Advocates for “fully funding” Alexandria’s public school operations and long-term construction needs swarmed into the city’s budget hearing Monday, calling for more spending, even if it requires more tax hikes and additional debt.
More than six dozen people, mostly parents of public school students, told the council that a proposal by City Manager Mark Jinks to add $373 million for construction and repairs of deteriorating schools was far too short of the $611 million that the school superintendent said is needed over the next decade.
One after another, residents described leaky ceilings, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate cafeterias and cracked foundations in some schools.
“When it comes to a child’s education, it’s not enough to do the best we can. We have to get the job done,” said Karen McManus, president of Jefferson-Houston School’s PTA. “The time for half-measures is over.”
The council members listened to four hours of testimony with little comment. Jinks last month proposed a budget with a tax-and-fee increase that would boost the tax rate by 2.7 cents. The combined tax-and-fee hike could cost the owner of an average home in Alexandria an additional $400 in fiscal 2018.
Completely funding the school district’s requests would require a tax-rate increase between 5.6 and 8.6 cents, making the average tax bill jump between $493 and $651 per year, depending on the cash-debt split and the length of time the debt is financed, Jinks said.
School advocates said the city should consider raising taxes and borrowing money to finance repairs and new construction for the school system, which doesn’t have enough space for a booming enrollment.
Supporters of other spending priorities also pressed the council to restore money that had been taken out of the budget.
Affordable-housing advocates had expected $4.3 million from the city to help them buy land from the Church of the Resurrection in the West End that would be turned into a 113-unit rental complex. The city has already allocated $4 million for the purchase. Without the additional $4.3 million in fiscal 2018, the project is dead, officials said, despite a sharp decline in affordable units in the city.
Those who have been working to get a 50-meter swimming pool at the Chinquapin Park Recreation Center decried Jinks’s decision to cut the $15.4 million project from the budget proposal, saying it was the third time since 1985 that funding for the pool had been eliminated.
The outpouring of parents seeking more money for schools was frustrating to residents advocating for other priorities.
Retiree Jack Sullivan, who pressed council members last year to spend more money to resolve the city’s combined sewer system, which overflows into the Potomac River when it rains, charged that school officials encouraged parent activists to show up in force to pressure the council for full funding of their budget request.
“This is unconscionable behavior. If those people were in the federal government, they would be subject to sanctions,” Sullivan said, arguing that fully funding the school system’s capital request would cost too much for taxpayers on fixed incomes. “Resist those pressures. Do the right thing. Vote the manager’s proposal and not a dime more for the ACPS.”
Others promised to remember during next year’s city elections how council members voted on the school issues.
The council has not yet set the maximum advertised tax rate for the coming year. A final budget and tax rate adoption is scheduled for May 4.