Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden’s administration on Monday night proposed an operating budget of $303 million for the 2017-2018 school year, $22.8 million more than the division’s current operating budget.
Bedden’s proposal – called the superintendent’s statement of needs – includes $18.3 million in additional city funding for day-to-day operations, instruction and programs. It also projects state revenues will infuse an additional $4.5 million into the perpetually cash-strapped school system’s coffers.
The proposal includes about $5 million for teacher salary increases based on years of experience, as well as $5.2 million for initiatives integral to Bedden’s Academic Improvement plan, which has not received full funding during his time with the school division. In an interview, the superintendent contested the idea that his administration was asking for $18 million in new operational funding.
“A good portion of those [needs] are carryovers from fiscal years ’16 and ’17, so I really wouldn’t categorize them as ‘new,’ ” Bedden said in an interview. “There’s only about $3.8 or $3.9 million of new dollars. As I’ve said in each budget cycle, the needs don’t go away.”
David Myers, the school division’s chief budget officer, presented the proposal to the outgoing School Board at its last regularly scheduled meeting of this term. The incoming board will have the opportunity to amend the budget in January and February before sending it to Richmond City Council.
The only incumbent who will return to the board, Chairman Jeff Bourne, said the city's new leadership gives him confidence the budget deliberations will be “collaborative and cooperative.”
“The mayor-elect is very engaged and wants to move the ball forward in some meaningful way, and so we look forward to having those conversations with him and the entire city staff to address as much if not all the needs we have,” Bourne said.
Last December, Bedden’s administration proposed $26 million in new operational funding for the school system. In the spring, as it became clear council would not fulfill the request, school officials dialed it back, but not before proposing school closures that were eventually taken off the table. Ultimately, RPS received about $5.5 million in new funding for the current school year.
Seven of the nine School Board members were present Monday night at what was the last regularly scheduled meeting of the current term. As the proceedings drew to a close, each member offered parting shots or advice for the incoming board.
“I am so optimistic about the future of our city,” said Kristen Larson, the outgoing 4th District representative who will serve on council come January. “I feel like we have good leadership coming in and there’s an excitement and buzz about education in our city like I’ve never seen before … To all the incoming board members who are here, this is you. You guys got this.”
Some took a more lighthearted approach.
Don Coleman, who has represented the East End 7th District for eight years, said he would be a cheerleader for new board members.
“As a matter of fact, I’m going to put myself on blast. I will actually come to meetings and say positive things to you all, just so you can see what that feels like that, so you all can feel some love,” Coleman said to laughs and applause. “It’s the least I could do.”
Kimberly Gray, who has represented the 2nd District on the board for eight years, said she would support RPS financially in her new role as a councilwoman, before closing on a quirky note.
“Also, to the incoming School Board people, if you get here late, you’ll get stuck with this broken chair, so make sure you don’t come late because you’ll practically be sitting on the floor,” Gray said.
“We can’t afford to buy a new one,” Bedden chimed in.
The incoming School Board’s first meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017.