Sen. Stanley, Mayor Stoney spar over to school maintenance

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 7/16/2018, 10:35 a.m.
Maintenance of public school buildings is your responsibility, Mr. Mayor.

Maintenance of public school buildings is your responsibility, Mr. Mayor.

That’s state Sen. William M. “Bill” Stanley’s response to Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s assertion that he had to slash spending for school facilities upkeep because the state is not providing the money Richmond needs to ensure bathrooms work, classrooms are functional and roofs don’t leak.

The senator from Franklin, who chairs the Senate Local Government Committee, has begun questioning the mayor and Richmond City Council’s decision to slash spending on school maintenance by 82 percent in the 2018-19 budget.

Sen. Stanley is asking questions about the $7.5 million cut in city support for school maintenance in leading a subcommittee that plans to look at potential state strategies to assist localities to replace or renovate deteriorating public schools.

Last week, Mayor Stoney responded to Sen. Stanley that Richmond was forced to cut its spending because the state is shirking its responsibility to provide needed funding for school maintenance as required by a U.S. Supreme Court decision and the state Constitution.

The court decisions and the Constitution “speak to the responsibilities of the Commonwealth, not the locality,” Mayor Stoney wrote to Sen. Stanley in rejecting the implied criticism of the city’s cut to school maintenance spending. “Yet despite the requirements of the Constitution, state funding has decreased.

“As more of our local dollars have been required to fill the gap left us by the Commonwealth, critical items like maintenance have been deferred,” Mayor Stoney stated.

Sen. Stanley called that a misread of both the court decision and the Constitution.

“A complete reading of both the decision and the Virginia Constitution demonstrate that the responsibility to our students to provide them with a safe place to learn begins at the local level,” Sen. Stanley wrote.

“Notably (Mayor Stoney) never said that he lacked the necessary annual maintenance money, but rather he tried to divert attention by focusing on other issues.”

Paul Goldman, leader of the Put Schools First Campaign in Richmond and special adviser to Sen. Stanley’s subcommittee, also criticized Mayor Stoney’s statement.

“Sadly, on helping Richmond’s minority children get decent, basic annual maintenance at their schools, Mayor Stoney concedes he is badly shortchanging” that item in his budget.

“But then (he) denies any responsibility for his budget choice, blames others and attacks those of us calling attention to his cruel policy choice,” Mr. Goldman stated.