Crusade votes to back city charter change to fix school buildings

Jeremy Lazarus | 4/21/2017, 6:07 a.m.

In his first budget, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney essentially sidelined the issue of modernizing the aging and increasingly obsolete school buildings that most city public school students attend.

The Richmond Crusade for Voters now wants to send a message to the mayor and Richmond City Council that they need to pay more attention to a problem that is not going away.

The city’s oldest and largest African-American political group voted unanimously Tuesday night to support political strategist Paul Goldman’s campaign to put a charter initiative on the November ballot to do just that.

If approved by voters and the General Assembly, the proposal that Mr. Goldman has drafted would give the mayor six months to “formally present to the City Council a fully funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform City Council that such a plan is not feasible.”

The mayor’s plan, according to the proposal, could not “be based on the passage of new or increased taxes.”

Mr. Goldman is known for leading the 2003 ballot initiative that led to the creation of the citywide elected mayor position.

He told the Crusade before Tuesday night’s vote that this is a chance for Richmond voters to remind their elected leaders to stand up for the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed government enforced segregation of schools by race.

He said it is little known, but U.S. Supreme Court justices in dismantling school segregation in the noted May 1954 decision cited “the physical condition of the school plant” as one way to determine if state and local governments were engaged in discrimination.

Except for the four new buildings, most of Richmond’s 24,000 students attend schools nearly as old as the Brown decision, he said. According to the state, Richmond operates about 48 school buildings.

“Richmond has the money” to modernize, Mr. Goldman said, but city leaders are spending it on other things, including high paid administrators and multiple departments.

“We could find the money to modernize schools if that was the top priority,” he said.

“Our children deserve better” than to attend worn-out buildings, said former City Councilman E. Martin “Marty” Jewell, in praising the organization’s decision to get involved.

He said the Crusade’s embrace of the charter initiative campaign “could be the most impactful thing our organization has been involved with in the past 30 years.”

The initiative is being carried out under a section of the City Charter that allows citizens to bypass the council and seek a vote on a charter proposal — the same method used to change the charter to a citywide elected mayor.

With the Crusade endorsement in hand, Mr. Goldman now is pushing to get the campaign going. On Wednesday, he presented the proposed charter change to the Richmond Circuit Court in seeking approval of the language.

Once the language is approved, Mr. Goldman said that he, Crusade members and other supporters would need to collect the valid signatures of 10,398 registered voters, which would equal 10 percent of the total number of people who cast votes in the last presidential election. According to the Richmond Voter Registrar’s office, 103,971 Richmonders voted in the November 2016 election.