Richmond Public Schools Supt. Dana Bedden on Monday said the cash-strapped district will need an additional $26.5 million to operate next school year.
This is separate from the $169 million Bedden's administration has said is necessary to modernize the city's school buildings and address projected overcrowding south of the river over the next five years.
At Monday night's school board meeting, Bedden lay out the operating costs in his administration’s 2016-2017 statement of needs, an early step in the budget process. His proposal includes $11 million for 69 full-time positions to maintain current service levels and comply with state and federal mandates. An additional $15.5 million in asks would further Bedden’s academic improvement plan and fund the hiring of 69 additional full-time employees. Combined, the sums represent a 10 percent uptick from the division’s current operating budget of $271 million.
The statement of needs informs the development of the school board's budget proposal, which it is scheduled to approve in January and present to City Council on Feb. 1, a month earlier than it has in years past.
City Council and the School Board have held two joint meetings already this year to discuss the upcoming year’s budget. The first was largely ceremonial, the second, poorly attended.
School funding, particularly for capital costs, promises to be a contentious issue during the upcoming budget session. The district has held a dozen community meetings this fall to gather input on its facilities' improvement plan. How, or if, it is funded will be decided by City Council.
Tammy Hawley, a spokesperson for Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ administration, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch this weekend that only 11 percent of the city’s population attends RPS schools, so city residents who don’t use the public schools may not feel a responsibility to pay higher taxes to fund them.
Hawley’s comments send the wrong message, says Kim Gray, who represents Jackson Ward, Carver and part of the Fan on the School Board. “Students may be 11 percent of our population, but they’re 100 percent of our future,” she says.
The newspaper also reported that another one of the mayor’s top aides, Grant Neely, questioned whether investing further in facilities would pay off, given the limited academic progress seen among some of the city’s newest school buildings.
Asked about Neely’s comments, Bedden points out that two of the four schools with new buildings – Broad Rock Elementary and Huguenot High School - are fully accredited this year. The other two, Oak Grove-Bellemeade Elementary and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle are not.
“It’s not like there’s been no successes [at those new schools],” Bedden says.