Richmond Public Schools administrators on Monday night proposed shuttering five schools throughout the school district in a last-ditch effort to cut costs for the upcoming year.
Among the closures are Armstrong High School in the East End, John B. Cary Elementary, Swansboro Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary and Southampton Elementary. Additionally, three specialty schools will be combined into one, but officials would not say which schools would be affected. The closures would save $3 million for the division, which is working to close an $18 million funding shortfall in the wake of Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ proposed budget.
Jeff Bourne, School Board chairman, said the board was playing a “very dangerous game of chicken” with Richmond City Council, which controls the district’s purse strings. Bourne said it was important for the board to begin the conversation about potential school closures before council finalized its budget.
“The budget decisions that are made over the next 45 days will have very real and very serious consequences for Richmond Public Schools and the families we serve,” Bourne said.
Under the proposal, students who currently attend John B. Cary elementary would be sent to Carver Elementary. Students from Southampton would be split between Fisher and Redd elementary schools. Students from Overby-Sheppard would go to the old Clark Springs Elementary building. Swansboro elementary students would be sent to Blackwell Elementary.
Armstrong students would be split between John Marshall High, Thomas Jefferson High and George Wythe High in South Richmond, said Tommy Kranz, the division’s assistant superintendent of facilities.
Don Coleman, the board’s vice chair and a graduate of Armstrong High, said after the meeting he was stunned his alma mater could be closed. “Just the thought of it – I’m kind of numb that it’s on the table,” he said.
Armstrong, the lowest performing high school in the city, is projected to have flat enrollment over the next several years. Additionally, its building is plagued with maintenance issues that would be costly for the division to fix. Both factored into the decision to propose its closure, Kranz said.
Coleman said he expected the proposal to be met with anger, but Monday marked only the start of the conversation.
“I’m going to support what’s in the best interest of the district at this point for our operating costs,” Coleman said. “We’ve got to serve kids.”
The board did not vote on the proposed closures Monday night. If it approves the administration’s proposal, the schools could close at the end of this school year.