To the Editor:
Patrick Henry Project decisions in April raised serious questions about the Alexandria City School Board’s decision-making priorities. Decisions about safety of students were reportedly being made based on “numbers of email received,” rather than professional analysis by technical experts. On Tuesday, May 10, the questions about priorities were answered at a special School Board hearing. After discussion, board members agreed that (1) Safety, (2) Academic suitability, (3) Cost and (4) Green Space were their top priorities.
School Board Chair Graf led a discussion to ensure fact-based decision-making going forward: at her urging, the board directed the Patrick Henry Project Team to provide a report with analysis and pros/cons and costs/benefits to better inform the board’s decision-making, with a focus on the board’s four priorities. Both Chairman Graf and Vice Chair Lewis indicated that a $1.5M to $2M increase in cost for the latest option would likely be a deal breaker from their perspectives, if all other factors were roughly equal. Their focus on the fiscal aspect is greatly appreciated. Unfortunately, that focus led to a decision to not pursue a highly desirable and sought-after auditorium for the new school; the project team estimated that the auditorium would add $2M to $3.5M to the cost and cause a three-month delay in the project to re-design the building arrangements to include provisions for an auditorium.
By charting a path to open, transparent and fact-based decision making, the board’s action should also defuse what was becoming a divisive issue pitting “neighborhood” vs. “parents, teachers and students.” We are writing to thank the School Board for their thoughtful discussion on Tuesday night that led to clearly-articulated priorities for project decision-making, and for making safety the primary concern. We share Ms. Graf’s objective to ensure that the project delivers the best school possible with the $40M budgeted amount, with safety as a number one priority.