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Put Schools First offers $650M plan to modernize city schools

Jeremy Lazarus | 3/5/2018, 11:28 p.m.
The volunteer Put Schools First committee is rolling out a plan that calls for spending $650 million to modernize all ...
Paul Goldman

The volunteer Put Schools First committee is rolling out a plan that calls for spending $650 million to modernize all of Richmond’s public schools — with a goal of having 19 completed within seven years and the remaining buildings done within 12 years.

The Free Press obtained a copy of the 27-page draft of the proposal that outlines about 100 ways to cut or reapply $21 million in city spending — 3 percent of the city’s current $681 million budget — in order to generate needed funds to repay the borrowing that would be required.

The plan calls for replacing buildings already on the Richmond School Board’s list, such as George Wythe High and George Mason and Greene elementary schools. It also would renovate or replace a host of other buildings, including the Richmond Technical Center to upgrade career training and Fox and Stuart elementary schools.

As proposed, the $370 million first phase of the plan would provide for one of the largest single investments in school building construction since the city’s public schools were created in 1869.

To be published within a few days, the proposal directly challenges notions that tax increases are the only way the city can obtain a stream of new revenue to cover additional borrowing for school construction costs.

Paul Goldman, chairman of Put Schools First and who led the successful effort to pass a referendum calling on Mayor Levar M. Stoney to create a fully funded plan to modernize city schools without a tax increase, confirmed on Wednesday that the documents are the first draft of the committee’s proposal.

Mr. Goldman said the plan presents the city’s leaders and residents with a fundamental choice: “Do we improve the oldest, most decrepit and obsolete schools in the state or do we continue to make excuses for failing to do what is right for the children?

“The mayor has said the children can’t wait,” Mr. Goldman continued. “This plan would bring an end to the broken promises our leaders keep making to the mostly African-American students who attend city schools. It is time to do what is educationally and morally right.”

The budget changes in the plan cover the spectrum, requiring belt-tightening in virtually every area of city government as part of what the plan calls a “shared sacrifice.” Spending reductions would affect every part of City Hall, from the city call center to the Mayor’s Office in order to free up funds to school construction.

Some of the proposed changes would shift money from previous uses. For example, the city has been providing $1.25 million a year to Altria as part of the deal to get the company to expand its operations here. Once those payments end, the money would go to fund school construction, according to the proposal.

Other ideas include $575,000 in cuts to the offices of the mayor, the city’s chief administrative officer and City Council. The proposal also would eliminate money to send city employees to conventions, cut back on strategic planning, pare spending by the School Board on high-level administrators and reduce money for arts and the Richmond Sheriff’s Office.