City challenged to find $ for new school buildings

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/15/2017, 8:51 a.m.
The likelihood that City Hall will rush to build new school buildings under a plan the Richmond School Board is ...

Mr. Rose told the officials that Richmond would have more borrowing capacity after 2023 due to repayment. He projected that between 2024 and 2028, the next five-year period, Richmond could borrow $415 million for all city needs, including school buildings.

Mayor Stoney did not speak about school funding at the meeting, but has previously said he is committed to finding the funding for a school modernization plan that emerges from the Education Compact.

Paul Goldman, who led the effort to put school modernization on the Nov. 7 ballot, did not attend, but has used postings on Facebook to continue to argue that the money is available to fix the city’s public school buildings without raising taxes. In his view, the city is making excuses for its refusal to create a fully funded plan to make it happen.

Discussion at the meeting showed that the School Board has yet to sell members of City Council on its first phase proposal, let alone its plans for the other school buildings.

Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District, expressed concern that the School Board wanted to build a new Greene Elementary with a 1,000-student capacity, or far larger than current elementary schools.

Also expressing skepticism was Councilwoman Kim B. Gray, 2nd District, who spent 18 months as a School Board member helping to develop a past plan for school modernization that essentially did not garner any funding.

She was critical of the School Board’s decision to avoid closing any school buildings and to maintain in large part the current smaller, neighborhood buildings.

“Those small buildings have been failing kids for decades,” Ms. Gray said.

Along with Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, she pointed to the need for any plan to focus on upgrading instruction and improving student outcomes, not use money on providing better buildings.

“If we’re spending money on facilities and not on instruction,” she said, “we’re going again in the wrong direction.”

Mr. Agelasto emphasized that educational outcomes is “where we have to prioritize.”

Interim schools Superintendent Thomas E. “Tommy” Kranz said he remains optimistic that the mayor and the council will come around and eventually agree on the importance of building some new school buildings, particularly the new Greene, Elkhardt-Thompson and George Wythe, which are becoming overcrowded as student populations on South Side grow, particularly with the increasing enrollment of Latino students.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” he said.