What a time to join the Richmond School Board.
Last week, the board appointed Dawson Boyer from among a pool of 10 applicants to fill the West End seat vacated by Glen Sturtevant last month. Kristen Larson, the board's former vice chair who represents Westover Hills, said the decision was not an easy one, and ultimately was dictated by the circumstances it faces during the remainder of the current term.
"The next 10 months as I see it, we have to make a lot of hard decisions, and there’s going to be some controversial items we deal with,” Larson said. "[Boyer] definitely seemed to have the demeanor and approach that made it seem like he can handle the pressure.”
The 30-year-old real estate agent and co-owner of an ice cream and coffee shop at Libbie and Grove enters the fray at a critical point.
Earlier this month, the School Board sent its operational and capital improvement budgets to City Council and the mayor’s office. Combined, the board is asking for about $60 million in additional funding for the upcoming school year. The ask comes amid a swell of public support for the school division, setting the stage for an intense budget season.
Boyer will serve through the end of the year, and says he intends to run to keep the seat once his appointment expires. We caught up with him before his first official meeting Tuesday night.
The following is an edited transcript.
RM: What inspired you to apply for the opening?
Boyer: I was the vice president of a nonprofit to benefit Thomas Jefferson High school, it’s called the Teejay Vikings Fund. I had been doing a lot of work with them over the last two or three years. When this opportunity presented itself, I thought it was a step to kind of do more for the city schools and the district.
RM: Since receiving the appointment, have you received any advice from Glen Sturtevant?
Boyer: Just a reminder – 'we before me.' We serve the 1st district, but it’s kind of a holistic approach to increase the quality of education and facilities for the whole school division. It’s not just about one district, but how do we improve the entirety of RPS.
RM: What’s your top priority for the next 11 months?
Boyer: Just finalizing this budget. With the age of the buildings, there’s a fairly significant need to make immediate improvements, and as [RPS assistant superintendent for operations] Tommy Kranz was quoted in the newspaper, to avoid this looming train wreck.
RM: You’ve devoted a lot of time to improving Thomas Jefferson High. The city’s high schools lag behind others in the region in terms of performance; how do you plan to work as a school board member to change that?
Boyer: Through the ownership of Boyer’s Ice Cream and Coffee, we’ve had employees that have attended different city schools. A lot of times they feel like people don’t care, and why should they care if no one else cares … I think some of it is just shifting some of that mentality that city schools can never be fixed. That’s one of the unfortunate things we’re working against, but we’re also at a time in Richmond’s history where the citizens are no longer willing to accept that. So how do we get the mayor’s office, and the City Council, and the School Board, and the people who do care and are willing to roll up their sleeves and help, how do we get all these people on the same page to start creating a better today for the students?
RM: It’s possible that City Council will not fully fund the board’s budget requests. If council allocates less money than the board has asked for, and the board has to make tough decisions, what are the non-negotiable budget items for you?
Boyer: It’s going to be a collective effort for members of the school board to figure out what the non-negotiable items are. Some of them are as simple as schools that have leaking ceilings; whether it’s in my district or not, no child should be going to a school where the roof leaks when it’s raining. The heating systems and cooling systems, the infrastructure of the buildings are the non-negotiables. If you don’t have an environment that’s conducive to academic learning, then you’re not going to have academic learning, so we really need to get those things squared away.