Hero or goat?

3/24/2017, 8:25 p.m.

Richmond schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden had an $8.3 million secret that popped out recently — that $8.3 million sits in an “unassigned fund balance” for Richmond Public Schools.

It’s always nice to “find” money. But that’s clearly not the case here. People are angry about the revelation. That includes parents, teachers, past and present Richmond School Board members, former City Council members and people who care about Richmond’s underfunded public school system with its broken-down buildings, underpaid teachers and often-times lack of basic supplies and resources.

We don’t blame them. We are angry, too.

Apparently, Dr. Bedden and a few bean counters under him knew the money was there. But the superintendent never informed members of the Richmond School Board or Mayor Levar M. Stoney that the $8.3 million was there and available — not even during recent budget discussions and lengthy deliberations over school needs.

We find his silence both puzzling and troubling.

Dr. Bedden’s people claim a 150-page budget reconciliation document sent to the city Finance Department earlier this year included a line item showing the millions. But why would Dr. Bedden remain mute about it?

We agree with School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page: “The situation erodes the public trust. Those dollars could have been already re-purposed for student needs. It’s unacceptable.”

How much was in the fund last year when Richmond high school students marched on City Hall to call attention to the many problems students face daily in decrepit buildings that hamper their ability to learn? 

Why didn’t Dr. Bedden say anything about having a multimillion-dollar emergency fund last year when parents and teachers held rallies and spoke before City Council demanding more dollars for the school system’s critical needs?

The absence of rallies, marches and sign waving during this budget cycle doesn’t mean the needs have disappeared. The situation our students and teachers face daily is still serious. Why wouldn’t Dr. Bedden put the “rainy day fund” money on the table as a possible help during these rainy days?

We also question what else may be hidden in the shadows of the Richmond Public Schools’ budget that the School Board and the public don’t know about.

We renew our call for transparency and accountability and for Dr. Bedden and his finance workers to come clean with the people of Richmond on how our tax dollars are being spent or stashed.

We are pleased to learn that Ms. Page wants some of the $8.3 million to be spent to improve teachers’ salaries and for technology needs, while leaving some money in the fund for emergency situations that may arise.

We also remind Dr. Bedden that he works for the Richmond School Board and the people of this city, not the other way around. 

We urge the nine members of the Richmond School Board, all of whom are new to the board this year, to stay on top of the situation and monitor the money closely.

While Mayor Stoney, City Council and the public are sympathetic to the needs of RPS and are willing to go the extra mile now during tight economic times to find more money for the schools, that could change on a dime — particularly when taxpayers feel they have been misled about the school system’s financial picture.