By Carla Branch and Rebecca Newsham
Last week, Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille and School Board Chair Yvonne Folkerts invited alexandrianews.org into their homes to reflect on the past year and look ahead to what’s on the horizon in the year to come.
In May, Euille was elected to a third term as Alexandria’s mayor. He was unopposed. He is very proud of the many accomplishments of the last Council.
“We accomplished more than any Council I remember serving on,” Euille said. “We passed an eco-city plan that has made us a model for other municipalities throughout the region and even the country. I am very proud to be testifying on Capitol Hill about the progress we have made in this area.”
On affordable housing: “Our new fire station at Potomac Yard will have 64 affordable/workforce housing units above it, which is an innovative use of space,” Euille said. “Also, we approved plans to redevelop Glebe Park, one of our public housing complexes, which had fallen into disrepair and to transform the James Bland public housing project into a mix of market rate and public housing much like we did so successfully with Chatham Square.
“We passed the Braddock Road Small Area Plan and the Braddock East plan and look forward to a time when that entire area can be redeveloped. Some people would like to see us do even more in developing affordable housing but that requires funding that is going to be limited. We are committed to maintaining affordable housing in Alexandria and we will continue to do what we can,” Euille said.
On crime: “I know there are concerns about a perception that there is a disproportionate amount of violent crime in the Inner City neighborhood and I have met with residents and with members of the Police Department to discuss steps that can be taken to address these concerns. One murder is too many and we are going to be increasing police visibility there and in other neighborhoods to deal with violent crime and nuisance criminal activity. Violent crime continues to decrease but we must also address the nuisance activity. We can’t have police on every corner but we can see that they are visible and respond to complaints,” Euille said.
As he begins his next term in office, he has three new City Council members and a City budget that is going to get worse before it gets better. “I’ve been meeting with the new members of Council to talk to them about how I like to work and to answer any questions they might have,” Euille said. “Vice Mayor Donley understands how the City operates so I haven’t really had to have many discussions about those sorts of things with him but I have enjoyed meeting with the other two new Council members and look forward to working with them.”
The issue that will dominate everything that the new Council discusses is the fiscal year 2011 budget. “We have had few gains, if any, in our residential real estate revenues and we are going to see a decline in our commercial property revenues. That is going to mean a very difficult year ahead for the City,” Euille said. “We do not want to raise taxes so that means we will have to make cuts in programs and services.
“However, we must consider rewarding our City employees for their hard work. They haven’t even had a Market Rate Adjustment for the past couple of years. We are continuing to evaluate our pay system by asking every employee to complete a questionnaire about their job requirements and their qualifications. Certainly, keeping our City workforce paid a competitive wage is very important,” Euille said.
Another priority is moving forward to implement the Landmark/Van Dorn Small Area Plan. “While General Growth has told me that redeveloping Landmark Mall is a priority, it is clear that they don’t have any money and may not have the resources to dedicate to Landmark Mall for some time. Also, in this economy, there aren’t likely to be many buyers for the property in the near term. However, we must continue to approve developments in the corridor and encourage bus8inesses to relocate there. We must look at transportation options there, as well,” Euille said.
Transportation planning for the entire City will be high on the agenda of the Council this year. “The work group looking into the feasibility of a Metro station at Potomac Yard is moving forward. It is important that we identify a site for such a station before the Yard is developed. We may not have the funding for several years but, if we plan for it now, we can plan the development around that possibility,” Euille said.
And, of course, there is bus rapid transit, “or a street car in the Route 1 corridor. We are still considering our options but are committed to providing public transportation of some type along Route1 and even on Duke Street,” Euille said. “We want to address our transportation issues in a multi-modal manner that includes transit, pedestrian thoroughfares and bicycle paths.”
In August, Euille will travel to Alexandria’s Sister City, Dundee, Scotland, with six Alexandria high school students. “I am looking forward to visiting with the Lord Provost and to taking some of our bright young people to participate in a youth conference. Then, I will be back home to get ready for the opening of our next legislative session in September. It should be a very interesting year,” Euille said.
Folkerts was elected to a second term on the Alexandria School Board in May and to her second year as Board Chair in July. She looked back at a turbulent three years with satisfaction.
“The first two years were very difficult but we hired a new superintendent who has already begun to make positive changes and move the school system forward,” Folkerts said.
One of the last Board’s key accomplishments was the adoption of a strategic plan. “For the first time in my memory, we have a plan that puts everyone on the same page. We have established clear goals for the future with an emphasis on teaching every child and instilling in everyone, from the chairman of the Board to the school janitor, a belief that every child is capable of learning,” Folkerts said.
One of the biggest changes is in the middle schools. “With Dr. Sherman’s guidance, we have approved a plan to divide our two large middle schools into five smaller learning environments. While it appears that both Francis C. Hammond and George Washington will be accredited this year and will make AYP, we have a lot more to do to get the middle schools where we want them to be. Creating the smaller learning environments is a good first step,” Folkerts said.
The Board made significant changes at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School as well. “I am very excited that we are implementing the K-8 model and the Primary Years Program at Jefferson-Houston. We will start with a sixth grade there this year and fully implement the K-8 model in three years. The staff and the community are very supportive of the new program and we are very optimistic that it will make a huge difference at the school,” Folkerts said.
During the election, there was a lot of discussion about out-of-District students illegally attending Alexandria City Public Schools. One family who lives in Fairfax County was discovered to have sent two children to T. C. Williams High School without paying tuition. The Board recently addressed that issue.
“ACPS has reached a financial settlement with the family and the School Board approved the terms. When we find out that there is an issue with residency we follow up and will exact financial penalties for retroactive violations and will either keep students out of school in the future or expect full tuition payments through a legal agreement. This is in keeping with School Board policy,” Folkerts said.
There are many challenges ahead, in particular, the budget. “This year, we were able to compensate for City decreases in our funding. Next year, it is almost certain that we will have to deal with even larger decreases as the City sees its revenues decline. We can offset some of these cuts with Stimulus funds but much of that money is targeted for special education and Title I programs.
“At our retreat, we heard about some innovative ways of funding capital projects and the superintendent is going to come forward with some recommendations about private/public partnerships this fall. Dr. Sherman has mentioned this to the mayor and the city manager and they are receptive. We have a number of capital needs that might include building new schools and we need to be creative,” Folkerts said.
Improving the delivery of special education services is a pressing concern. “In 2008, we were told that we were not in compliance with State regulations regarding the delivery of our special education services. Dr. Sherman had the Virginia Association of School Superintendents conduct a special education audit and, while there were no surprises in the report, it pointed out deficiencies that we must address immediately,” Folkerts said.
The Board plans to create at least one “community school.” “Two Board members attended a conference on community school models last year and I would like to see us establish at least one community school. It basically means that the school becomes a focus for delivering services and programs to people who live in the surrounding neighborhoods. We might offer tutoring or job training or whatever the community sees as a need. There are a couple of neighborhoods that have expressed interest in the community school model,” Folkerts said.
Finally, Folkerts would like to get students more involved with the Board. “We are looking at having a student representative on the Board or having a student advisory committee to the Board. However we engage students, it should be in a meaningful way,” she said.
Folkerts will take a vacation with her family and then spend August preparing for the beginning of the new school year.