The Richmond School Board on Monday approved a scaled-back operational budget for the upcoming year, salvaging a popular proposal to increase pay for the division’s teachers, but sacrificing the superintendent’s signature academic initiative in the process.
The board approved a $280.3 million operational budget for the upcoming school year, accepting $8.1 million in cuts recommended by the administration and rolling the dice that staff turnover and unfilled positions will yield another $2.8 million to help cover costs. The cuts include $2.3 million intended for continued implementation of Superintendent Dana Bedden’s Academic Improvement Plan. However, the board spared popular two-year plan to increase teacher pay based on years of classroom experience.
The superintendent praised his staff and the board for supporting the teacher pay plan, which his administration had championed as integral to putting – and keeping – highly skilled and motivated teachers in the division’s schools.
“To the faculty and staff, thank you. It’s long overdue,” Bedden said. “You’re still not getting paid what you’re working, and we’re still going to keep asking for more – sorry. And you’re still going to keep giving more.”
After the meeting, Bedden expressed concern about the division’s ability to continue improving academics without the plan. “I hope that people realize that this potentially slows your progress,” he said. “We’re already climbing a steep hill.”
Kimberly Gray, who represents the Fan, Carver and Jackson Ward on the board, said the board did not receive adequate financial support from the city administration or council to implement the improvement plan.
“I feel as if [Dr. Bedden’s] [Academic Improvement Plan] is being gutted,” Gray said.
The school board’s original budget proposal included $26 million in new operational funding for the upcoming year. As it became clear that Richmond City Council would not fully fund the ask, the board slowly scaled it back, following administrative recommendations. School leaders publicly pondered closing five schools and consolidating others to save money, but retreated from that idea last week. In the end, council allocated an additional $5.5 million in operating funds.
Only five members were physically present for the special meeting, which marked the end of the budget season. Mamie Taylor and Derik Jones participated via phone. Kristen Larson and Tichi Pinkney Eppes were absent.