(Illustration by Jon Krause)
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden doesn’t hide his frustration with how the city’s budgeting process unfolded this spring.
Even after parents, teachers and students marched, rallied and lobbied the Richmond City Council to fully fund the division’s proposed spending plan, Bedden’s administration was left to cut $10 million it said it needed for the upcoming school year. The sum included $2.3 million tied to the superintendent’s signature Academic Improvement Plan, a three-year, $23-million road map outlining new programs and staffing changes to improve the division’s abysmal track record. Bedden’s administration developed the plan at the request of School Board and City Council members. It set annual targets — for the number of accredited schools, the number of students matriculating to college and enrollment in advanced programs, among others — to track progress and, by extension, the city’s return on investment. But that investment for a plan Bedden believed was “universally embraced” after its approval in January 2015 hasn’t materialized, he said in an interview in July.
“Effectively, we had partial funding the first year and now we have none,” he says.
Kimberly Gray, the School Board's 2nd District representative, says the students who will be hit hardest by the cuts are some of the most at-risk. Included in the Academic Improvement Plan funding was $1.3 million to launch a program for middle school students who are one or more years behind their expected grade level. Sixty students would have participated in the program, with another 30 added the following year. About 290 middle school students across the division fall into that category. Another 235 elementary school students are already a grade or more behind, too.
“They will not graduate if they do not get those interventions,” Gray says. “Not funding [the program] means they’re not going to get them.”
For Bedden, it’s another missed opportunity to effect change for students and demonstrate that the division is serious about making progress. The consequences extend beyond the classroom, he adds.
“It becomes a community issue because they drop out,” he says. “We know that leads to increased crime, potentially … and the likelihood that they’re going to depend on social services, that they don’t have an opportunity to be productive citizens in society.”