The Richmond Public Schools administration floated a plan at Monday night’s School Board meeting to close six schools and slash other services and initiatives to save $12.6 million and stave off a potential funding shortfall for the upcoming school year.
The closure plan comes days after Mayor Dwight C. Jones spurned a school-board approved request for $18.3 million in additional operating funding for the upcoming year. Meeting that ask, Jones said in his remarks to Richmond City Council last Friday, would have required furloughing city workers for a month or laying off 400 employees.
“I chose not to take these actions because they are bad ideas. It’s also a bad idea to continue down the path that was taken last year – that path of cutting operations without regard for the consequences,” Jones said, referring to a council decision last year to move $9 million in vacancy funding built into the city budget for schools.
Ralph Westbay, the division's assistant superintendent for financial services, did not say which schools could be closed at Monday night's board meeting. The six include three elementary schools, two specialty schools and one high school. The closures alone would save the division $3 million.
Also on the administration’s list of cuts to balance the budget: Implement a hub transportation system, which would eliminate some neighborhood bus stops ($3 million); relocate one elementary school, closing a campus ($100,000); close two office complexes ($300,000); demolish the old Elkhardt Middle School in South Richmond ($50,000); demolish the old Real School on Northside ($50,000); contract janitorial services ($1 million); increase student teacher ratio in middle and high school from 22 to 23 students per teacher ($2 million); and eliminate other initiatives ($3.1 million).
“That still doesn’t get us to $18 million, but it’s a start,” Westbay said.
“This list here, these are the easy things to do?” asked Jeff Bourne, the board’s chairman. “This is the low hanging fruit, Mr. Westbay?”
Bourne, who has been publicly bracing for the budget blow for weeks, offered a stark assessment of the school division’s plight. “We’re not going to get $18 million more,” he said. “We need to make some real hard decisions, and they’re not going to be popular.”
Supt. Dana Bedden said the administration was still analyzing Jones’ budget proposal. The school closure plan could spare cuts to Bedden’s academic improvement plan, one of the superintendent’s signature initiatives to improve school performance in the division, as well as the plan to overhaul the district’s teacher salary scale. The fate of those line items lies with the board, he added.
“Our job is to give the board options on how to close the gap,” he said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”
A joint meeting with City Council and the School Board is scheduled for Monday, March 14.