Q&A with School Board candidate Steven Krieger

Q&A with School Board candidate Steven Krieger

Q&A with School Board candidate Steven Krieger

The Voice requested that all candidates for the Democratic Party nomination for the School Board submit answers to a series of questions. For more information on all the School Board Candidates, please visit the Candidate Page https://arlingtondemocrats.org/vote/candidates/

Mr. Krieger's responses follow:

Q: There are many different groups of stakeholders involved in the Arlington Public Schools (APS).   How do you intend to prioritize and engage with these groups and address conflicts between them?

Conflict resolution between stakeholders should prioritize problems and their solutions through a data-driven approach instead of individual stakeholders. This will ensure that the voices who are oftentimes the most adversely affected by school board policy and procedure will also be heard. Our commitment to our most vulnerable groups must be intentional and specific. We can’t further compound the power dynamics that lead to inequitable gaps in access to opportunity and achievement.

The school board needs a more proactive approach to creating policy and procedure.  Currently each school board member is a liaison with specific schools each academic year. We should better utilize this relationship to strengthen the school board’s connection to the liaising schools. Staff should not be the loudest and most powerful voice affecting school board decision making. The goal is to get to the correct solution. If APS data is less convincing than community data, then the community proposal should be accepted.  One of the best aspects of Arlington is that we have an amazing group of highly educated and very dedicated people who are willing to volunteer their time and expertise for the betterment of the county.  I’m more concerned with the substance behind a proposal than whether the proposal came from an APS staffer or community stakeholder. 

For APS to continue post-graduate student success, we need stakeholders outside of the immediate school system, like local businesses, who understand our mission, share our vision for student success, and have a stake in the performance of our students as future employees. These external stakeholders should be a positive force for helping the school board achieve improved outcomes for all students and sustain our children over time  -- like through work-based learning that bring non-education professionals to APS and allows students to experience more project-based learning.

Q: Decisions made by the state government in Richmond can affect APS. What is your view of Richmond’s impact, and are there specific state-level policy or procedural changes for which you would advocate?

APS’ school board is charged with interpreting Virginia regulations and setting policies for our students while creating strategic plans for the advancement of education in Arlington. Although our school board is bound to implement Virginia law, APS also has the right to challenge and shape future policy if the state designated regulations are not in the best interests of Arlington students. Does Richmond have an impact on us? Absolutely, but Arlington also has an impact on Richmond.

Arlington has always been a leader in Virginia. We are trailblazers at the forefront of taking decisive and appropriate actions to protect our families. We have modeled some best practices to others in the Commonwealth and our elected state officials have taken our lead. A recent example can be seen in how Virginia has implemented policies and practices that affirm transgender and gender-nonconforming students. We have also been at the forefront of pushing our delegates in Arlington to support state-wide bills promoting important issues like functional literacy for our youngest students and best practice guidelines for the use of digital devices.  Arlington leads the charge on protecting our children and creating those types of meaningful policy decisions that influence other Virginians. There’s still more to be done. Teachers in Virginia may soon gain the right to collectively bargain with the public school systems that employ them — which signals a historic shift away from a state law that forbids public employee unions from negotiating on salary and benefits. This doesn’t just affect our educators. First responders like firefighters and police officers will also gain bargaining rights. The signing of this bill has been delayed due to the global pandemic, but our teachers and first responders deserve the right to participate in collective bargaining, which will mutually benefit the employees and community.

Q: The current health crisis has presented unprecedented challenges. How would you evaluate and learn from APS’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to date, and how would approach the start of the new school year in the Fall?  

“Democracy dies in darkness” and APS needs to be more transparent regarding the preparation for future distance learning. The first step to addressing an issue is admitting that an issue exists. The "Continuous Learning Plan" (CLP) is not an accurate description for what APS has provided, particularly for elementary schools, English Language Learning, or students with disabilities. In the APS sample schedule for grades 3-5, students are learning for 45 minutes a day. Pre-COVID-19, these students had 30 minutes of recess or less. In this schedule, students have 5 hours of break time. While the incentive-based program for secondary students works well for some families with older children, the lack of consistency from school to school has raised many questions of equity around grading that the “no new content” plan was supposed to prevent.

There are valid equity arguments on both sides of the “new instruction or not” debate. L.A. and NYC have signaled that schools may not resume this Fall. APS should be preparing for a future CLP, but currently APS is not sharing enough information about what is being done. The global lack of certainly is causing many families a great deal of angst; APS is contributing to this by not providing enough information about what families can expect in the coming months.

APS should be consulting with other districts across the country, colleges that have strong in-person and online programs (GWU and Maryland are local, but universities like Florida, Illinois, and Indiana all have strong online programs), and private schools that have successfully implemented a distance learning program to see what APS can replicate. Distance learning is already being done, to some extent, in other districts, so APS should be focused on finding the best practices and best examples to model for our community. 

Q: Budgets are practical expressions of an organization’s priorities.  In broad terms, what is your assessment of the priorities expressed by the recent APS budgets and, if you would recommend changes, what are they and how would you fund them?  

The revised budget has a deficit of almost $60M, which is more than double the initial deficit in the original pre-COVID-19 budget, so everything is going to get cut to some degree, but the items that should be cut last, in this year, and future years, should be the programming for students and personnel that has direct contact with students.

For example, there has been ongoing discussion about cutting funding for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a Virginia state-chartered magnet school open for application to students in six local jurisdictions, including Arlington. Our qualified students should not miss out on this extraordinary opportunity, particularly since we have nothing like it to offer as an alternative.  Further, it is my understanding (but I have not independently verified) that it actually costs less per student for APS to send a student to TJHSST than the average cost per student in APS overall. If that is correct, then APS may not truly realize the financial savings if APS decides to cut funding for TJHSST. 

A second example: in the revised budget, the proposed reserve funds balance was $12.1 million. To me, reserves are money APS needs for a rainy day. It’s hard to image a rainier day than a global pandemic. I’m not suggesting that we deplete the reserve funds to zero, but APS could use more of the reserve funds during this crisis.  Another APS budgeting area for improvement is the reallocation process from saved funds accrued and reallocated at two board meetings during the year. From 2009 - 2019, APS reallocated approximately $262.2 million dollars (or $23.8 million per year) with minimal oversight.  We have to be more diligent and intentional in our spending decisions and transparent in the rationale for how we use taxpayer dollars.

Q: Much is spoken about the need for close collaboration between the School and County Boards. How would you evaluate the current state of that collaboration in actual practice and, if you see room for improvements, what would you do to achieve them?  

ensure that all parts of the county are accessible and livable for all residents. While the School Board doesn’t have the authority to build housing, I would like to see the School Board take a more active role in development projects – not only for affordable housing, but also because new developments impact capacity issues for APS. 

In addition to development, the School Board and County Board should collaborate on transporation. If an ART bus is a more direct route for a particular student, the student should be able to ride the ART bus, which saves the student time and reduces the need for school buses if this accomplished on a large enough scale. Currently, APS is piloting a program where secondary students are able to ride the ART buses, so if this goes well, then expanding this program and reducing the total bus fleet could be accomplished.

Finally, APS and the County should work together more (and with other districts) on institutional purchasing. From the FY2020 Budget there are at least two possible opportunities where purchasing power could really save Arlington some money:

(1) Purchased Services were $26.8M. This includes all expenditures for services acquired or purchased from sources outside the school system (i.e., private vendors, public authorities or other governmental entities).

(2) Materials and Supplies $24.3M. This includes all expenditures for instructional materials, office and school supplies, textbooks, uniform costs and other operating supplies which are consumed or materially altered when used. If APS could partner with the County and other districts to increase the total purchasing power and reduce these expenditures by 5%, APS would save $2.5M a year. 

Q: What is one quality or experience that sets you apart from your fellow candidates? How will that quality or experience influence your perspective as a member of the School Board.

Never has it been more critical for a school board candidate to possess a multitude of hard and soft skills that I’ve acquired by managing my own litigation firm. It’s been almost four years since the School Board has had an attorney member; we need one now.

Board members will have to utilize business and analytical skills to provide the best possible decision making for APS by asking tough questions and serving as a check to ensure the best solutions are being developed. As an attorney and small business owner, I am constantly faced with the need for innovative thinking in my daily work, which will help me navigate the operational issues facing APS like the budget, distance learning, capacity, and accountability to ensure we have an equitable school system that achieves academic excellence. No other candidate has my business and legal experience that is needed to guide APS through these challenges.

Currently, APS is dealing with the repercussions of the recent settlement with the Department of Justice, defending a boundary policy lawsuit, and potential noncompliance with the laws regarding students with disabilities. As a litigator, I can tell you: litigation is expensive. Every dollar that APS spends defending litigation is a dollar that should have gone to student programming. I will help APS implement better solutions so we reduce the risk of being sued in the first place.

Lastly, as a litigator, it’s my job to represent my clients zealously. As a school board member our children and teachers will be my clients. I am prepared to be bold, creative, and flexible to best serve our community. I am the candidate who will make hard choices to stand up for what is right.

Close