School Board gives green light to charter school

Joey Matthews | 3/19/2015, 6:05 p.m. | Updated on 3/20/2015, 2:47 p.m.
Can Richmond Public Schools afford a pricey new charter school when it already claims to need tens of millions of ...
Richmond City School Board

Can Richmond Public Schools afford a pricey new charter school when it already claims to need tens of millions of dollars in additional spending to renovate, maintain and equip its 44 existing schools?

Schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden doesn’t think so. His leadership team recommended against approving the Metropolitan Preparatory Academy because the charter school’s supporters have not found a building to house it. Nor have they raised substantial funds to pay for a facility.

The proposed new charter school would require up to $7 million a year in public support at full capacity — or at least $10,000 per student.

At least six members of the School Board disagreed with the Bedden team, evidenced by the 6-2 vote Monday to allow the Richmond Urban Collective to open the charter school for the 2016-17 school year if it meets four conditions.

The conditional approval came only a week after Mayor Dwight C. Jones submitted his proposed budget to City Council that included no additional funds for Richmond Public Schools. Dr. Bedden had requested about $26 million in additional spending for fiscal year 2015-16.

The board’s conditional approval is a big victory for backers of the tuition-free charter school for boys in grades six through12, with a focus on helping disadvantaged African-American youths.

“We are grateful that the board approached this with great, creative problem solving,” said Tunya Bingham, a corporate tax expert who has worked pro bono for the past three years spearheading the charter school effort.

“The next step is to get busy with the tasks that they have put before us,” she told the Free Press after the charter school vote.

The board gave charter school organizers until Aug. 3 to find a building, produce plans and prove financing is in place for special education students and English language learners, as well as for transportation.

They also have until Oct. 1 to present to the School Board a lease or purchase agreement for a building, and until March 1, 2016, to prove enrollment within 10 percent of capacity.

The charter approval could be revoked if the school supporters can’t meet any of those conditions.

Voting to conditionally approve the charter school were board Chairman Donald Coleman, 7th District; Vice Chair Kristen N. Larson, 4th District; Glen H. Sturtevant, 1st District; Mamie Taylor, 5th District; Derik Jones, 8th District; and Tichi Pinkney Eppes, 9th District.

Kimberly B. “Kim” Gray, 2nd District, and Jeffrey M. Bourne, 3rd District, voted against it.

Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District, abstained, expressing frustration with the way the motion was presented.

Ms. Pinkney-Eppes told the Free Press this week she always has supported the charter school. She said she opposed providing $1 million in the 2016 fiscal year budget without a facility. The money later was stripped from the plan in an effort led by Mr. Bourne.

“I am glad that in the end the charter was conditionally approved with definitive benchmarks that must be met,” she told the Free Press.

Mr. Bourne said he opposed the charter because having no facility is “a big hurdle to get over.”

He added, “I thought some of their financial models and fiscal realities that the charter school and we face made it not a prudent decision.”