Parent’s FOIA request shows more to RPS 2018 toilet paper debacle

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/19/2019, 6 a.m.
Richmond Public Schools expects to finish the current school year with plenty of toilet paper, paper towels and cleaning supplies ...

On March 13, 2018, an email from Mr. Horton to Mr. Oliver and Deidra Starkes, an administrative assistant in the central office and later to RPS’ new chief operating officer, Darrin Simmons Jr., stated that Mr. Horton had orders from 30 schools and could not completely fill them because the custodial supply budget was running short.

Then on April 12, Ronald M. “Bobby” Hathaway Jr., an acting supervisor for heating, cooling and ventilation whom Mr. Kamras had promoted over Mr. Oliver and Mr. Horton to manage all facilities, received notice of the brewing problem through an email from Rose Ferguson, principal of George Mason Elementary School.

Ms. Ferguson emailed that bathroom supplies were running low. School Board member Cheryl Burke, 7th District, shared that email with Mr. Kamras and other members of the administration in trying to find out what was happening.

Mr. Horton, a 41-year RPS veteran, then followed up with his own email on April 13 notifying Mr. Hathaway and the custodial staff that “due to budget constraints,” he was buying only essential supplies. “Considering the shortage I would solicit any assistance that you can provide in developing the custodial budget.”

On May 17, after the available funds had virtually dried up, Mr. Horton issued another email appeal for help.

In an email to Mr. Hathaway and to RPS Budget Director Lynn Bragga, Mr. Horton stated, “We currently have only $503.00 remaining in the custodial budget. I also have at least 21 schools (that) have submitted orders for custodial supplies. Not sure at this point what is expected. Several requests have been made to replenish the custodial supply budget, but to no avail. Please assist wherever possible.”

Mr. Hathaway then responded with a request for additional information, including Mr. Horton’s estimate of custodial needs through the end of the year. Mr. Horton’s estimate: $49,723.97.

On May 23, Mr. Hathaway sent an email reassuring Mr. Horton: “We should have funding later today or tomorrow to help,” Mr. Hathaway states, apparently after learning that the requisition for funding had reached the superintendent’s desk. But nothing changed.

On Thursday, May 31, Mr. Horton reported, “The amount available in the custodial supply budget was $1.18.”

That day, Mr. Oliver said he made urgent calls to Mr. Hathaway about securing money for supplies, but was told that Mr. Hathaway could not do anything.

Mr. Oliver said he and Mr. Horton also met that day with Mr. Simmons, who “expressed no interest in neither our account of what had occurred nor our knowledge of how it could have been avoided.”

“Instead, he only wanted to know how many schools (would receive) toilet paper and paper towels on Friday, June 1,” Mr. Oliver wrote.

Mr. Simmons apparently did not tell Mr. Oliver and Mr. Horton that he had signed off on the request on May 23 to shift funding to boost the custodial supply budget.

Mr. Oliver also told Mr. Simmons of emails notifying Mr. Hathaway of the problem.

Mr. Horton separately stated that once Mr. Kamras signed the form allowing the custodial budget to be replenished with $50,000, he was able to fill back orders from 21 schools. According to the budget office, the transfer of funds was accomplished at 9:20 a.m. June 1.

Mr. Horton stated that supplies began moving Monday and Tuesday to most of the buildings, though some schools had to wait several more days. He said he and his brother, Frederick Horton, a 30-year RPS veteran, quit after Mr. Oliver was fired.

“These emails provide a completely different picture from what we were told,” Ms. Anderson said. For her, Mr. Kamras’ handling of this challenge “has undermined my trust in his ability to handle larger problems.”

Mr. Kamras did not respond to Free Press questions about the situation.