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Marching for dollars

City Council takes first steps to give more to RPS

Jeremy Lazarus | 4/15/2016, 5:46 a.m.
Before dozens of students, parents and teachers began pleading, berating and challenging Richmond City Council to beef up funding for ...

Before dozens of students, parents and teachers began pleading, berating and challenging Richmond City Council to beef up funding for city schools, the nine members of the governing body had already taken the first step.

In a 9-0 vote Monday night, in front of a packed council chamber of school supporters, the council approved an ordinance requiring the city administration to give to the schools real estate tax money collected from surplus property previously owned by the school system.

For example, the city is on the verge of completing the sale of a former school warehouse near The Diamond baseball stadium to a furniture maker. Once the furniture maker owns it, all real estate taxes the city collects from the property will go to the school system.

Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, came up with the idea in 2013 of creating a new stream of revenue for schools, but was unable to gain support.

He said he revived the idea after the furor over school funding erupted. Three weeks ago, his proposal gained steam even as others sought to return it to the scrap heap. Mayoral candidate and Councilman Jonathan T. Baliles, 1st District, and Councilman Charles R. Samuels, 2nd District, stepped in to restore the plan to the council agenda.

Mr. Agelasto praised his colleagues Monday for their now unanimous support.

He said the legislation will only apply to future sales and is not retroactive. Still, he estimated that the ordinance could yield $1 million or more in new revenue for schools, depending on the development that takes place on former school sites that move into private hands.

Several school properties remain vacant, but have yet to be sold, such as the former REAL School at Azalea and Chamberlayne avenues on North Side.

And the Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center likely would be sold as part of the brewing plan to have a private company create apartments, offices and retail stores on the city’s 60-acre property on the Boulevard. If that happens, real estate taxes from the site where the center now stands also would be steered to schools.

At the same time as more than 70 people lined up to speak in support of school funding, all nine of the council members were submitting amendments to Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ 2016-17 budget plan that would boost funding for the school system. Monday was the deadline for submitting amendments.

The amendments, which the council will consider at a noon work session Monday, April 18, at City Hall, call for boosting the city’s contributions to the public schools between $5 million and $18 million, the full amount school Superintendent Dana T. Bedden and the School Board are seeking to implement his academic improvement plan.

The mayor’s budget calls for providing $145 million for schools operations — the same amount as provided during the current budget year. Last spring, council endorsed the flat spending proposal in approving the mayor’s two-year budget.

However, the standstill approach has begun to fade fast after months of hearing from school supporters, with most council members convinced they must find some way to add more money for schools. As yet, council members have not identified cuts they would impose on city departments for the schools increase to happen.