No schools will close as a result of Richmond Public Schools' operational budget shortfall, a majority of board members decided in a surprise vote late Monday night.
The decision spares Armstrong High School in the East End, as well as John B. Cary Elementary, Swansboro Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary and Southhampton Elementary. In April, the administration had proposed the closures while facing a then-$18 million operational funding shortfall. The administration came up with -- and the board approved -- about $1.2 in further cuts, leaving roughly a $16 million gap. The closures would have saved an estimated $3 million for the upcoming school year. On Friday, Richmond City Council approved an additional $5.5 million in operational funding for the school system.
Superintendent Dana Bedden explained the administration was able to close the remaining gap and balance the budget by relying on a projected $3.4 million in vacancy and turnover dollars, as well as slashing $5.1 million from initiatives that covered such things dual enrollment and Advanced Placement courses, support staff and technology improvements. An additional $2.3 million set aside for Bedden's Academic Improvement Plan was also cut.
Bedden’s explanation came as a surprise to board members, who had not received a copy of the administration's presentation prior to the meeting. Seizing the moment, several members suggested tabling discussion of school closures altogether.
“If the budget is balanced and closing schools is not a part of that recommendation, as the budget is balanced, then let’s stop talking about it,” said Tichi Pinkney Eppes, whose district includes a large tract of South Richmond.
The board voted 6-3 to end discussion of school closures for the remainder of the current budget cycle. Bourne, vice chairman Donald Coleman, Pinkney Eppes, Shonda Harris-Muhammed, Derik Jones and Mamie Taylor voted yes.
"There's no reason why our teachers should unnecessarily for another week have to endure the possibility of their school closing when it just doesn't make sense," Taylor said.
Kristen Larson, Kim Gray and Dawson Boyer voted no, each saying they wanted to leave the option of closures on the table until they examined the administration’s updated proposal.
“At this point, I'm not ready to support that motion. As a I mentioned earlier, I want to keep all options open," said Larson, who represents the Westover Hills-anchored 4th district.
The board is expected to finalize the budget at a special meeting scheduled for Monday, May 23.