The Richmond School Board on Monday night adopted Supt. Dana Bedden’s $293 million operational budget for the upcoming school year, an increase of $18 million from what City Council allocated to the school division last year.
The ask comes at a time when tensions over the condition and performance of the city's public schools are reaching a boiling point, and follows Mayor Dwight C. Jones' call for a referendum on raising the city's real estate tax rate to support RPS.
“We’ve got to be prepared for the likely event that we don’t get all $18 million,” said school board chairman Jeff Bourne.
Kim Gray, who represents part of the Fan, Jackson Ward and Carver, echoed Bourne. “The real hard decisions come after we know what we’re going to be appropriated,” she said, adding that she’s optimistic the board will be able to address most of the schools’ needs.
Included in the budget is $5.3 million for a two-year plan to restructure the division’s salary scale. The proposal, which was originally slated for a one-year rollout at a cost of $8.4 million, would address the years-long stagnation of teacher salaries within the district. The budget also includes $2.3 million for Bedden’s academic improvement plan and funding for 138 additional staff positions.
The board adopted the budget on a 6-2 vote. Mamie Taylor, whose district straddles the river, and Tichi Pinkney Eppes, who represents much of the South Side, voted no. “I’m still having some angst because we’re just basically moving a placeholder,” Eppes said.
“For me, there’s too much waste that still exists within the budget,” Taylor said after the vote. “In the interest of full transparency, before I could agree to move forward with the budget I would need to see that being addressed on the front end.”
Bedden’s administration first presented his estimate of needs in December. The administration laid out a timeline for the board to discuss and adopt the budget in early February to give city council and the mayor adequate time to consider it. The administration revised the initial ask down from $298 million based on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s budget proposal, which included additional state funding for local school divisions.
Faced with questions from the pair before the vote, Bedden defended the process.
“One of my frustrations, to put it frankly, is that the administration is putting stuff out early and then some wait until the ninth hour to ask questions,” he said.
The board opted to wait another week to vote on its capital Improvement budget.
About 15 people spoke during the hearing, with many showing support for Rupa Murthy, president-elect of the Mary Munford Elementary school Parent Teacher Association.
Gregory Muzik, a longtime principal at the school, praised Murthy’s qualifications. “She’d be a stellar addition to this board,” he said.
Aside from Murthy, Deborah Corliss, Elizabeth Doerr, Peggy Feldmann and Cody Sigmon turned out the most supporters.
The board will appoint a candidate next Monday.