The Right Note: Numbers Games?

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by published on Thursdays. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyAccording to Arlington County, it will cost $2,858 to produce records in response to a recent FOIA request on the Columbia Pike trolley project.

The FOIA request was for e-mails, memos and other specified documents between county staff, consultants and County Board members in regards to the preference of a particular station for the Skyline trolley stop, the location of the maintenance facility, traffic impacts on Columbia Pike during construction, economic development, and other issues.

Of that $2,858 cost, $2,341 would go to AECOM — the County’s consultant on the project and County Board member Chris Zimmerman’s new employer. The effective rate per hour for AECOM’s work is approximately $180 when you include their expenses and fees. Is it any wonder Zimmerman signed a consulting contract with them? Good work if you can get it.

The county’s share made up the additional $517, a bargain by comparison, at an hourly rate of just under $65 per hour.

No average citizen can fork over $2,858 for copies of these documents. The county seems to be hiding behind this cost to keep the documents out of public view, signaling an aversion to transparency when it comes to the massive project.

What the county staff should do is offer to provide all of their copies of the documents requested for $517. Since the county was in receipt of virtually all requested documents, this seems like a reasonable solution to provide an appropriate level of transparency.

Speaking of numbers that do not add up, the Arlington Public School superintendent recently released a proposed budget for next year.

The total topline spending number in Superintendent Murphy’s budget was $520.4 million. The total projected enrollment is 23,586. For those of you with calculators, that equals $22,063 per student.

According to the superintendent’s budget presentation, however, we will be spending $18,709 per pupil. So, the published amount provided to the public is $3,354 or 18% less than the actual amount.

By my quick “back of the envelope” calculations, it seems as though the superintendent only counts $441 million of the $520 million in his per pupil numbers. I can only assume from his presentation that state and federal aid do not count. However, based on Arlington’s median income, I think we can safely say that Arlington taxpayers pay more than their fair share of state and federal taxes. In other words, Arlingtonians are picking up this share of the school funding tab as well.

I am sure someone has a politically expedient explanation for why this spending does not count in the per pupil calculation. But, it seems disingenuous to people who care about things like accountability, transparency, or even math. This is coming from our school superintendent after all.

Regardless of whether you think we do not spend enough on our schools, too much, or just right, shouldn’t we be honest about what we are actually spending to educate each of our children?

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.


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