Richmond City Council and School Board met Monday morning for just the second time in recent memory to outline how both bodies could address funding concerns for the cash-strapped school system before the springtime budget season hits.
Superintendent Dana Bedden and members of his administration updated City Council members on the district’s academic progress, including a review of incremental gains on the most recent round of state standardized test scores. Bedden says he expects that six of the city's eight high schools will earn accreditation for meeting or progressing toward state standards.
RPS administrators gave an update on the district's plans to improve its facilities, which could cost as much as $563 million. The school division plans a series of public meetings to discuss the hot-button topics of redrawing schools boundaries, closing some schools, renovating others and building new ones, as well as a time table for completing the work. Eighteen meetings – two in each district – will be held starting this month. Bedden’s administration will make a recommendation to the School Board in February. The school board will vote on a long-term plan of action in March, just before it sends its proposed budget to City Council, which allocates district funding.
“I hope [Council] saw a commitment on our part to try to be more communicative in what our needs are early on so they can hopefully have the chance to plan better,” Bedden said after the meeting.
City Councilman Jon Baliles, who represents the city's West End, said Bedden’s administration has done a better job communicating with council than its predecessors did.
“The more information [council] has, the better we can assess the needs” of the city’s schools, Baliles said after the meeting.
“It’s important for everyone to be clear with what’s happening on all sides of city government so we can plan accordingly,” said School Board member Kim Gray, who represents the Fan, Carver and Jackson Ward neighborhoods.
Monday morning’s meeting had a rocky start. Only three representatives – Baliles, Glen Sturtevant and Donald Coleman – out of 18 arrived on time. The meeting started 20 minutes late with only 10 members present. No more than 12 representatives were present at any point during the three-hour meeting. From council, Chris Hilbert and Reva Trammell, the Southside representative, did not show up. From school board, Shonda Harris-Muhammed, Tichi Pinkney Eppes, Mamie Taylor and Derik Jones did not show, either.
Those present noted the absence of the city administration. Several council and school board members suggested inviting mayor Dwight C. Jones’ or someone from his administration to take part in any future meetings between the bodies.
“One of the things I think was loud and clear in terms of next steps, is changing this from just a joint meeting between council and school board to including the city administration,” said Donald Coleman, chairman of the school board, adding, “It’s not as if we didn’t consider that beforehand.”
Grant Neely, the mayor’s chief of staff, attended part of Monday’s meeting, but did not take part in the proceedings and left before the meeting adjourned.
Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, says Neely’s presence was sufficient representation for the administration at the meeting. The chief of staff or the chief administrative officer are “capable representatives of the mayor,” Hawley says, and often attend engagements on his behalf.