Mayoral Candidate Position: Education

Candidates for Richmond mayor received questionnaires from local nonprofit organizations James River Association, Richmond Forward, RVA Rapid Transit, Sports Backers, and Storefront for Community Design. Their responses — regarding public education, transportation, urban planning and the riverfront — will guide the Mayorathon, a candidate forum scheduled for Sept. 29.

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Below are the candidates’ responses to the questionnaire focused on education, provided by Richmond Forward. Responses have been published as received; no content has been edited beyond being formatted for the web.

Education

QUESTION 1 - INTER-GOVERNMENT REFORMS/INTENTIONALITY

Richmonders are long tired of stories of inter-government dysfunction and miscommunication between the Mayor, City Council, and School Board when it comes to education. Prime examples include the annual contentious budget season and the discoordination in school construction and operation that led to the failed opportunity with a new MLK Middle School.

What will you do to ensure that your office bolsters inter-governmental efforts to support a world-class education system?

JON BALILES: I have already begun doing this, so it’s more than just a promise. I have forged a strong partnership with the Superintendent and School Board while serving on City Council to provide significantly more resources to improve our schools. That commitment will continue as mayor and be even more effective. Every budget year, I will follow the example of Henrico County and sit down with the Superintendent in October BEFORE the mayor’s budget is drafted to begin collaborating. The Superintendent will have an open door policy with my office with no appointments necessary.

JACK BERRY: The only way to create transformational change in our schools is to unify the community around the priority of public education. That starts with constant communication, open and honest dialog, and frequent joint meetings of all the key players, including City Council, School Board, School administration and Mayor’s Office. There should be quarterly joint meetings and a coordinated and unified effort to reach agreement on key educational priorities, budget objectives, facility plans and community needs. I will communicate constantly, be present in the schools, and work hard to develop trusting relationships with other elected and appointed leaders to create the environment for change. I will appoint a senior position in the Mayor’s Office to be a liaison with RPS and other agencies that impact public education. I will work with RPS to develop a 5-year funding plan to bring predictability and consistency to the annual budget process.

BOBBY JUNES: Install system that lays out as well as prioritized items which city council and school board both commit too. The / these fixed variables, part of overall formula, too be allocated on the front end of each council meeting agenda. Prioritize schedule which will reflect top rated issues we commit to. 

JOE MORRISSEY: As Mayor of Richmond I will have four priorities:

  • Developing a world class education system,
  • Professionalizing the city’s public administration,
  • Improving the delivery of city services, and
  • Addressing Richmond’s persistent racial and economic inequities.

The first and fourth priorities are intertwined, as are the second and third. The antidote to dysfunction is clear communication between the Mayor, City Council, and the School Board.  Each leadership group has unique and overlapping responsibilities and perspectives.  As Mayor, I pledge to negotiate those differences and similarities with the single goal of transforming our very broken school system into a model for the state and the nation.  

MICHELLE MOSBY: The Mosby Administration will continue as i have done as City Council President which is bring all local governing bodies together to discuss and problem solve holistically. I will continue to champion CTE initiatives and forge business partnerships with schools. I will seek revenue enhancement opportunities and make decisions based on factual information. I will lead as great leaders do even when it’s uncomfortable.

LEVAR STONEY: For me, this is about transforming City Hall and the way things are done. That’s how I have approached all of the positions I have held. In working as Executive Director of the Virginia Democratic Party and Secretary of the Commonwealth, I wasn’t just pushing paper. I was managing multimillion dollar budgets and recruiting, inspiring, and motivating diverse staffs who were effectively creating change. As Mayor, I’ll do the same. I will be a hands-on, visible, transparent leader. When the election is over, I’m not going to stop knocking on doors. I will be collaborator-in-chief, the chief accountability officer, and the buck will always stop with me. I plan on surrounding myself with the best talent and leading from the top down. If individuals are not interested in improving the overall quality of life for Richmond’s citizens, they will not have a place in my administration. 

As the first in my family to graduate high school or attend college, I am the education candidate and will be the education Mayor. The Superintendent and the Mayor should be partners working together to achieve goals. Right now, there is nothing formally requiring the Mayor to have a relationship with the Superintendent. I believe that needs to change and I hope the Superintendent will accept my invitation to attend all of my cabinet meetings as a key stakeholder in improving the lives of Richmond’s children. I look forward to being a partner with not only the Superintendent, but the School Board, CIty Council, state government, and federal government as well. The Mayor should be the person bringing all of these players together to get things done and actually improve education. It’s time to break down the silos, define responsibilities, stop fighting, and start working together.

BRUCE TYLER: The first week in my administration I reach out to the School Board Chairman and the President of City Council to discuss developing a strategic plan for RPS.  I’d like to see the School Board take the lead in drafting a new plan or ratifying the current plan with input from City Council and my administration, meeting on a regular basis to provide input into the development of the plan.  Once the School Board approves it, I will forward to City Council a resolution to adopt the comprehensive and collaborative strategic plan for RPS.  Upon City Council approval, I will sign the resolution to put the plan into action.  This will be the first time since the new mayoral form of government where all three elected bodies will agree to a single strategic plan for our schools, which will serve as the basis for all of our decisions regarding Richmond Public Schools.  This plan will include academic improvement, community engagement, maintenance, and capital building along with estimated funding for each of these components.     

LAWRENCE WILLIAMS: "I'm from the government and I'm here to help". We have heard these words too many times in the past. Governments or their structure alone does not insure success. A system that recognizes and enhances the values of the population served will lead us to a world-class education system. Too long our education system has been a tale of two cities. I submit that RRHA is the fourth leg supporting the table on which a reformed Richmond government must be written.  In the 60's new schools were built and then surrounded by segregated housing. That has proven to be a mistake. As mayor, I will listen to Citizen values and begin to reintegrate our communities with two new branded middle school academies surrounded by new mixed income development with amenities that attract middle income families back to the City. If 1/3 of the students are regional candidates for admission and they are replaced equally in the surrounding counties by Richmond City students, a mayor should take on the challenge. We have to face what people want if a new governmental system, supporting a world-class education system is to be achieved. "Save our Schools" is code for "We want to reintegrate our schools and be a part of its success. A Mayor must include cooperation also with our regional education partners and the State Legislature as well. Having mayor facilitated, community forums that are actually negotiations among citizens and one on one relationship building staff encounters is the job for a mayor that has actual community planning experience. 

Again Citizen based strategic planning committees will be the oil that forces the four pillars of our City to work together. I had this experience when I was on the nine member board of the Richmond Tomorrow Strategic Planning and Budget Committee, appointed by Council during the Walter Kenny and Robert Bobb administration. During those years Citizens with both management and business/community ties held the City together successfully. Hayes Watkins CEO of CSX was a good southern gentleman and chairman of the board.  I would like to share my collaborative skills learned during those years and beyond with the citizens of Richmond. Ultimately, the Mayor has to be a facilitator and salesman of community visions with unquestioned integrity and able to communicate collaborative concepts effectively to staff and community.  I would again like to establish Williams Blue Ribbon Citizen  Review and Oversight Committees. 

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QUESTION 2 - SUSTAINABLE FUNDING

An increased and sustainable stream of education funding will be needed overcome the backlog of facilities needs caused by systemic disinvestment, and to meet the needs of educating students from highly-concentrated poverty. With Richmond’s limited bond capacity, revenue streams, and disadvantage from state funding policies, this will not be an effort that Richmond’s residents can bear alone.

What is your plan to identify the necessary combination of state, private, and local revenues to provide sustainable funding for an education overhaul?

BALILES: A solution begins with real commitment. I have put forth two ordinances for city council consideration this fall to finally create a minimum stable level of funding for our schools. This will allow school administration and the school board to financially plan for its long-term future. One ordinance would dedicate at least 60.8% of real estate tax revenues to our schools, while another would dedicate one cent of the six-cent meals tax revenues. Stable funding is essential if we are to transform our school district.

BERRY: Richmond suffers from an unfair State funding formula for education that does not adequately address the needs of communities with high levels of poverty. The City has recently stepped up to build new schools but is now constrained by limited capacity to take on new debt. The public is reticent to accept higher taxes when there is a widespread perception that funds are not used wisely, particularly given the acute dysfunction in the City’s finance functions. While every effort must be made to tap private, philanthropic, state and federal funds, it is not realistic to think that others will bail us out. We must be prepared to solve this problem here at home without outside miracles. Within the first 90 days I will propose a global financial plan that will address school needs as well as city priorities. Working with the Council and School Board, we will reprioritize the 5-Year Capital Improvement Program, develop a borrowing plan that does not put our bond rating in jeopardy, and identify sustainable revenues. As the former Budget Director and Deputy City Manager for Finance, I am certain that I can develop a financial plan that works for the future.

JUNES: I) Explore recent state legislature to make sure the city is receiving the bulk amount of state funds available based on the amount of lower income / poverty stricken citizens that reside in urban boundary. Earlier in July 2016 state governing body passed new standards on ratio of money available to poverty areas. II) Stick with Economic Partnership plan - adopt a teamwork model to insure private employer's matched up with city citizens work force. III) Consider a public-private tax investment surcharge. Be based on a total revenue to net income maximized level. This fee not to exceed the individual entity total amount of assessed Real Estate tax. 

MORRISSEY: The Office of Community Wealth Building has already started the work necessary to identify the various funding streams available to pay for our education overhaul.  We will need to be smart and creative as we look for ways to do more with less.  I am exploring non-traditional methods, pioneered elsewhere, that allow for the leasing of school buildings, year-round education, and multi-purpose use for facilities.  As Mayor, it will be my responsibility to explain and justify potential increases in taxes to our citizenry.

MOSBY: I will continue conversations that have resulted in the Mayors task force on school funding. The Mosby administration will take the conversation a step further with Transform Richmond’s Build Neighborhoods & Build Schools Campaign (Baltimore Model) where a combination of local, state, PPEA's, the business community, Richmond residents and many other partners are at the table.

STONEY: Providing sustainable funding is an important responsibility the Mayor shares with the School Board, City Council, state and federal government. As a nation, we’re not investing enough in public education. If we truly believe, as I do, that the path out of poverty is education then we can never be investing too much. As the first in my family to graduate from high school or college, I am proof positive that kids can prove the statistics wrong if they’re given an opportunity to succeed. Being a strong Mayor is about more than just writing a check to RPS and cleaning your hands it is about collaboration. As Mayor, I intend to team up with the Superintendent and the School Board to actually set and then achieve our goals, whether it is improving attendance, graduation, or teacher retention rates.

As Mayor, I will also ensure we receive more than our fair share from the state and federal government. We suffer from the poorly structured Local Composite Index funding formula, which rewards localities with significant enrollment growth and fails to factor in the poverty of the students. This means that counties like Henrico and Chesterfield are receiving more money from the state than Richmond, which has substantially more poor students and a far greater need for state funding.

You’re going to see me tirelessly beating down the doors of our state and federal officials many of whom I have a great working relationship with. I will be a champion for education, and a tireless advocate for Richmond students, who is going to fight for what we deserve. We need to be expanding resources strategically and focusing our efforts on providing students with the best 21st century education possible.

TYLER: Since the FY2014 Actual Expenditures  of$645M and the FY 2017 Adopted Budget of $709M, the general operating budget  increased by $64M. During this time, 13 of the 36 departments increased expenses by 10% or more, excluding RPS.  The Auditor of Public Accounts for local government report for FY2014 shows how inefficiently we operate our city in comparison to other cities in the Commonwealth.   Our RPS funding issues are not because of declining revenues but instead they are due in part to governmental mismanagement.  Combine greater fiscal responsibility with increased revenue projections and we will have the income to properly fund RPS.  With the aforementioned comprehensive and collaborative strategic school plan in place, funding allocations will be set for four years out to meet the objectives defined in the strategic plan.

WILLIAMS: As mayor, in the first 100 days of my administration with the political support from Citizen Blue Ribbon Committees, I will determine the best marketing and political  approaches for improved funding for our schools. With citizen committee experts in the fields of education, finance, legislative and public relations, I will approach the Council, School Board and RRHA as well as nonprofits and the business community to offer buy-in/insight in our efforts to find the right evolving model for Richmond Public Schools financing.

These approaches will address of course more appropriate funding formulas from the State. New tax zone development in new promoted business districts will be ordinance driven with designated funding to schools. Nonprofit assistance within targeted schools to reduce student teacher rations to 1 per 15 will help to justify to the State and Federal governments that additional funding would be appropriate. Energy efficiency contracts to reduce operating cost and a Mayor that can cut construction cost by 20% will also go a long way toward finding additional dollars to go in the classroom.

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QUESTION 3 - TRANSFORMATIVE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Recent events have shown the immense goodwill of our community for city schools: citizens came out in droves to support funding for Richmond Public Schools. Likewise, Richmond's business community contributes amply to education initiatives every year. With all this good intention, we still lack transformational partnerships between the schools and business, neighborhood, or philanthropic service providers.

What will you do to maximize community support for public education by establishing transformative partnerships which empower individuals towards sustainable change?

BALILES: I will consider my term as mayor a success if we never again see 76 people come out and plead for more money for our schools at a city council budget public hearing. That should not have been necessary. I will work with businesses, volunteer groups, and philanthropy to continue and increase their efforts to improve our schools and brighten our children's futures. I will also lead by example by being being positively involved instead of combative and dismissive. Our schoolchildren will get my full attention when they need it, not a fraction.

BERRY: Success breeds success. Partners are easier to attract when there is an absence of organizational dysfunction, hyper partisanship, and in-fighting. Partners are more likely to come on board when they see leaders that have a shared vision and a commitment to united action. Partners stay on the sidelines when they see political fighting. We will build a City Government that is highly capable and trustworthy. A high-performing organization is essential to tackle the community’s most difficult challenges. I will motivate the private sector to join the effort to strengthen public education in ways not yet seen in RVA. We will inspire confidence in potential partners by getting City Government on the right track, particularly in the area of financial management. Several years ago, at the request of a former superintendent, I helped to lead community and business efforts to recruit teachers for RPS. By joining forces, we can do much more. We will bring resources, talent, and a community-wide effort to embrace the needs of RPS students.

JUNES: Work with local educational neighborhood, philanthropic, and special interest groups that interact with / or through the present school system. Effectively communicate how these different groups have contributed resources (time, money, services) that have made a positive impact to a local public school facility or which has enhanced a particular school's student body population at large. Looking for instances that build bridges, connect, show associations, as well as reflect open mind.       

MORRISSEY: It is my opinion that support for change in Richmond’s system of public education is a proxy for the transformative change a majority of Richmonders’ want for race relations and economic opportunity in the city.

If we can improve public education, then we will be that much closer to addressing the root issues – Richmond’s massive racial and economic disparities.

For transformative partnerships to develop and grow stakeholders need to trust that they have roughly equalivent influence and power at the engagement table.  The Richmond Times Dispatch recognized that I am the only candidate for Mayor who has the trust of black community. What I can do to maximize community support for public education is provide a voice and advocacy for those who think the table is rigged and the House always wins.

MOSBY: I will continue the dialogue and energy of a 21st century education for our school age residents. I do not believe the conversation should be held only during budget season. The task force put in place by the current administration is an excellent collaboration however the Mosby Administration will continue to seek ideas from other cities that have brought Business, Government (local)(state), Residents, and PPEA's to the table to bring resolve in a 5-10year time frame. Again dialogue as well as accountability regarding schools is multi-pronged we all play an important role in moving our city forward. My administration will have dialogue (Mosby's 60 Minutes) throughout the city we must be a city that is informed.

STONEY: This is exactly how we should be asking this question. As I have stated, I believe we need to transform the way we approach these issues as I have done in the past. This is about more than qualifications, it’s about who has vision and the ability to drive the education agenda everyday. We need to bring the private sector, nonprofit, government, and communities together to achieve our goals. Programs like the Richmond Teacher Residency Program at VCU are a great example of work that’s already being done on this front. It’s time for City Hall to start celebrating and expanding programs like this and stop thinking in compartmentalized ways when approach the economic development, community enhancements, and education. It’s also time for government to recognize it often uses it’s own language, and we need to break down the barriers that make it hard for communities to collaborate starting with communication and engagement.

TYLER: The transformation we need to create in our school system is one that moves to a strong K-8 model with magnet middle schools. We have great elementary schools (Mary Munford and Bellevue) and great high schools (Open and Community).  The middle school years remain the issue.  For us to make our schools a system of first choice and not last resort, I would propose we look at a K-8 educational system as an alternative to our current system. The benefits include students staying in neighborhood schools, continuity between 5th and 6th grade as teachers communicate about students,   opportunities for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders to mentor elementary students, and a more supportive teaching environment.  Also, I would propose we continue with the current magnet middle schools: the IB program at Lucile Brown and the arts program at Binford.  These programs have been well received by our students and parents. By initiating this approach to our school system we will be able to increase the number of students attending RPS.  

Once this plan is in place, I will work with parents, citizens, non-profit organizations, and businesses to support the proposed plan.  I will actively seek support of the non-profit organizations and the business community by hosting open houses at our schools.  The purpose of the meetings will be to connect these groups and have these organizations become a school sponsor.

WILLIAMS: I would work with The Richmond Education Association and the media more to highlight not only positive student role models but also more emphasis from a marketing perspective on our most successful seasoned teachers. Marketing would show how these teachers were contracted to work with entry level teachers for three years as a way to showcase the quality of education in Richmond. Develop more high school internship opportunities. I have enjoyed having such students work year-round in my office. I later watched them grow into fine adults and marry their childhood sweethearts. Large corporations should have programs through Richmond public Schools that promote educational and career advancement among their loading dock workers. Workforce development for post graduate teens is critical and can be supported by the business community tailored to what they need. A good Mayor can gain the trust and encourage the marginalized.

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QUESTION 4 - STRATEGIC ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

A combination of tax abatements and incentives used to attract businesses, develop historic properties, and boost tourism have nonetheless diminished the taxable property base in Richmond. Private market trends have shifted considerably in recent years, but our tax policies and economic understanding continue to leave Richmond Public Schools’ funding – which many voters claim is a top investment priority – short.

What is your economic development strategy to provide incentives or negotiate benefits, which recognizes education as a priority?

BALILES: The best economic strategy begins by making education a real priority. I agree with Dr. Bedden when he says that education prevents poverty, reduces crime, improves health, and drives economic development. 

Setting a stable stream of funding will enable the schools to begin to plan long term. It is an economic driver on multiple levels that will enable the city to prioritze teacher packages like we do for public safety packages - we can only hire and retain the best and brightest in these two fields - now more important than ever - if we are competitive. Better schools lead to better jobs and more of them as businesses start up and relocate to areas with skills, talent, and a good quality of life. 

BERRY: Richmond is poised for much more high quality economic development which will strengthen the tax base and help fund RPS. The City’s population is climbing and investment is growing. RVA is attracting economic activity that will generate new money for schools and other city services. The days when Richmond had to subsidize every deal, incentivize every project, underwrite every event, and routinely forego taxes are behind us. Going forward we should only incentivize economic development activities that otherwise would not occur. RVA’s economic outlook is improving, so it is time to reevaluate subsidies and be much more cautious and intentional about how we use taxpayer money to leverage investments. We will build a highly capable team that will have the skills to negotiate better deals for the community and generate more funds for schools.

JUNES: Will utilize all public / private avenues which commit to counter poverty. We traditional use to or hearing the high / successful rates pertaining to Business operations. Time to come full circle and communicate the negative or consequently effects of our economic development which are prevalent as reflected in the percentages of poverty. The rates of our inner city poverty will serve as guideline. They will reflect if our remedial efforts are heading in the right direction.     

MORRISSEY: The most concrete economic development strategy I will use to support education will be to avoid making deals with private sector groups such as the Washington Redskins and Stone Brewery. Every tax dollar given away to for-profit concerns is a dollar taken from our children’s education. Any proposed economic development deal with a for-profit concern must provide at least a 2-to-1 return on investment to the city (a common business ratio of benefits to costs) to be considered viable.

MOSBY: My strategy for economic development will continue to reflect my goals to ensure we are competitive so that we can provide a 21st century education and take care of all of our city services. The Mosby Administration will Renew a sense of energy & enthusiasm as it relates to economic development. A dedicated source of funding for schools is a necessity for planning sake of all bodies of government. We will seek internal revenue enhanced opportunities in perfecting our systems and we will seek economic development projects that will yield a profitable financial return on investment as well as a workforce and or affordable housing component.

STONEY: We need to make the business community want to invest in RPS. Our City has a public relations problem we need someone inside of City Hall championing all of the good work we do and encouraging more of it. For example, I met a group of graduating students who were residents of public housing and had all been accepted to college. There are many examples of achievements at RPS, like the work happening in Franklin Military Academy, which has a tremendous robotics program. They should be amplified and celebrated. As Mayor, you’ll see me celebrating the great work teachers and students at RPS are already doing and making sure residents know about it.

We need to maintain focus on the challenges in our school district, but it’s time we start celebrating and promoting achievements as well in order to attract investment. There are already great partnerships with corporations like Altria and Dominion. There are also great partnerships currently in place between local schools and small businesses as well, like the work the RJ Smith Companies are seeking to do. In recruiting business to come to Richmond, we need to be making their contributions to RPS a priority. We can be doing a better job of reaching-out to the private sector to help us achieve our goals. I will be a leader who brings the private and nonprofit sectors to work together with government and invest in education.

TYLER: The short term strategy will be to improve the management of our government operations by instituting greater fiscal accountability. By doing so, we will be able to direct $20 to $30 million to our schools immediately. Also, I will look at rehabilitation tax credit programs to renovate our historic public schools.  Corporations will be formed to sell the tax credits and lease back these buildings for a specified period of time with RPS ultimately owning the building.  
The long term strategy will be to grow our city.  We will do this by developing a comprehensive master plan with zoning ordinances that foster responsible development in our community. We should continue with tax abatements on new construction in economically depressed areas and renovation projects that preserve our building heritage.  These programs ultimately bring more taxable income to our city.  

Also, we must develop one of the most underutilized areas in the city, The Diamond site.  This tract of land has the largest potential for economic development in our city.  If properly developed, we should see more than $25 million annually in revenue to our city.   

Tax abatements and incentives have allowed our city to grow and become the vibrant city we see today.  As tax abatements expire, our taxable income increases, in turn allowing us to invest in our schools.    

WILLIAMS: I would be an experienced champion in economic development. Large dezinated school tax business tax zones are crucial and I would promote such development. See website: www.lawrencewilliamsarchitect.com to view such proposals for economic growth. Also as your mayor I will recognize that the tax parcels around a school also determine to an even greater proportional degree the funding available and success of schools. Therefore, as a Mayor from such neighborhoods, I would be hard wired to promote measurable change, such as the new community development and reducing concentration(s) of poverty, now occurring in Church Hill. All potential economic corners of our City must be brought up together. I do not approve of increasing the tax rate on residential properties or the elderly. I do feel the State and large businesses over 100 employees should contribute more to Richmond Public Schools.

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