After a three-hour joint session Monday, the Richmond City Council and the Richmond School Board came no closer to figuring out how to come up with $18 million the school district says it needs to get through the next year.
“Whatever we find, if it doesn’t come out to be $18 million, I hope you all know we don’t love the children any less,” said Michelle Mosby, Richmond City Council president and declared mayoral candidate.
The school district had asked for an $18 million above last year's budget to pay for teacher raises, among other things. But, Mayor Dwight C. Jones' budget, released earlier this month, included no funding increase. Also in question is how the district will pay for its $196 million, five-year plan to begin renovating its outdated school buildings and to construct new ones.
The mayor has proposed earmarking 20 percent of new real estate tax revenue for school construction in the next decade. At Monday's meeting, he laid out a timetable for that plan, saying that his staff is working on an ordinance and plans to submit it for consideration by City Council in the next month.
“When the city grows, so too does school funding,” Jones said, adding: “This is a show of good faith; it shows that we’re all moving in the right direction and that we all recognize the need for sustainable, dependable resources for RPS.”
School board chairman Jeff Bourne, a rumored mayoral candidate, said that the district was accelerating its facilities plan by possibly closing six schools to save money to offset the operational shortfall, with the hope that capital funding from the city would come through.
“We’ve got schools in South Richmond that are built for 625 kids and have over 900 kids,” Bourne said. RPS growth projections show overcrowding south of the James will only get worse. Bourne added later in the meeting, “We’re accelerating our implementation of [the facilities plan] on the hope and prayer that money is coming.”
Kathy Graziano, whose council district includes Westover Hills, said the city must balance funding schools with other priorities, like public safety. She suggested forming a committee to figure out how to fund the school board-endorsed plan for overhauling its outdated facilities. “It’s like saying ‘I want to have a Gucci bag, but I don’t have the money for a Gucci bag,’ ” Graziano said.
Kim Gray, who represents part of the Fan, Carver and Jackson Ward on the School Board, objected to the comment. “We should think of [schools] as food on the table, not a Gucci bag.”
After Gray responded, Graziano immediately apologized for the characterization.
The meeting, the third between council and school board members in the last nine months, was much like the first two. Much talk. Little action.
Superintendent Dana Bedden said he hopes council works to fund the schools’ operating budget. “President Mosby said it best, I’m not going to sit here and say they don’t care about children if we don’t get the $18 million. But I am hopeful that they work very hard to move it from zero.”