More than 200 teachers, parents and children protested at City Hall on Wednesday.
More than 200 Richmond Public Schools teachers, parents, students and supporters rallied on the steps of City Hall Wednesday afternoon to advocate for more funding for the cash-strapped school division.
“For years, we’ve been waiting, waiting and waiting for the powers that be to do something,” said Chris Lombardi, a fifth-grade teacher at Mary Munford Elementary. “Now, we have to let them know we’re not satisfied.”
Children bundled in winter coats waved signs and chanted with their parents and teachers as motorists whizzed by on Broad Street. Some honked in solidarity. Hopes for a better city hinge on improving the public schools, Lombardi says, and that process can't wait any longer; it starts this budget season.
Earlier this month, the Richmond School Board adopted an operating budget requesting $18 million more than City Council allocated the school system last year.
Amid the scrum, School Board chairman Jeff Bourne said he was impressed by the protesters' display. Asked about the likelihood of council appropriating the additional funds, he offered a pragmatic response. “The pie is only so big,” he said, adding that the School Board would have to reassess its priorities and make tough decisions if schools don’t receive the full amount.
However, Bourne says funding tied to Superintendent Dana Bedden’s academic improvement plan, as well as overhauling the teacher salary scale, are non-negotiable in his eyes. “We need to get every single dollar and dime into the classroom,” he said.
In addition to the operating budget, the board passed on Monday a $41 million capital improvement budget for the upcoming school year. The proposal is five times the amount set aside for capital projects last year.
Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for Mayor Dwight C. Jones, said it would be difficult to find additional funding for the school system without slashing budgets for other departments. That would further limit the city's ability to provide basic services, like leaf collection or bulk trash pick-up. She referred to the mayor's proposal for a referendum on the city's real estate tax rate as a potential solution.
"We have to present a balanced budget," she said. "That will probably limit what we're able to do this budget cycle ... Instead of us dealing with this year after year after year, we're trying to lay down a process by which we can make some decisions that affect the long-term funding needs."