Friends Offer to Assist with Funding Planetarium Operations
Comet Making Demonstration by Jonathan Harmon at the Planetarium, September 23, 2017. Credit: Perrino.

On April 27, the Friends sent a letter to the Arlington County School Board stating our willingness to provide grants to reduce the cost of operating the Planetarium during the 2022–2023 school year to facilitate its re-opening. On February 24, the Superintendent proposed keeping the Planetarium closed for another school year as a cost-saving measure. He wanted to focus spending on increasing compensation for staff. The Friends appreciate the amazing performance by all Arlington Public School employees, especially during the last two difficult years. However, we believe that compensating hard-working teachers and support staff fairly does not preclude re-opening this important educational facility.

At the end of January, the School Board approved year-end funds from the 2021–2022 budget to modernize the Planetarium projection system so that our students can experience cutting-edge science and other immersive programming. In April, the vendor began preparing the Planetarium to receive the new equipment; installation and set-up should be complete by early September. The purchase contract also covers items, such as a service agreement and new shows, that the 2022–2023 Planetarium operating budget would normally have to include. With these reductions in expenses and the generosity of our members and donors, the Friends are able to offer to cover most of the remaining operating costs.

State-of-the-art projection equipment cannot by itself provide the transformative experiences our students expect from a trip to the Planetarium. The system needs a creative and inspiring science teacher to reach its full potential. Because the former director retired in 2020, the School Board needs to hire a new teacher to bring science alive for our students under the dome, inspire them to engage with their regular course work, and encourage them to envision themselves as scientists. An innovative teacher will take advantage of multidisciplinary programming and broadcast events to support all subjects and expand course enrichment through live, virtual educational opportunities. On May 12, the School Board will decide whether to fund this single, essential science teacher and re-open the Planetarium.

The full text of the Friends’ letter is available below; it confirms oral offers made during earlier meetings with School Board members. If the School Board accepts the Friends’ offer, the official details will be delineated in our next Letter of Agreement.

alt: View PDF of letter to the APS Board