Possible funding increase for city schools?

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 2/8/2019, 6 a.m.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration is hinting that it might propose a $5 million increase in support for Richmond Public ...

Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration is hinting that it might propose a $5 million increase in support for Richmond Public Schools’ operations in the new 2020 budget it will present next month to Richmond City Council.

The hint was included in a five-year forecast of revenues and expenditures that city Budget and Strategic Planning Director Jay Brown distributed to City Council members Monday.

The document states that the “expenditure forecast includes an estimate increase of $5 million in local funding” for RPS each year of the 2020 to 2024 budget period.

Mayor Stoney will present his budget plan on March 6.

A $5 million increase in city funding for schools would provide some relief to the public school system.

The Richmond School Board is working with Superintendent Jason Kamras to cut spending by $12.5 million based on information that the city would not provide additional funds, making the total contribution about $156.6 million or the same level as in the 2018 fiscal year that ended on June 30.

During the current budget year, City Council joined the mayor in providing a one-time increase of $12.5 million to Richmond Public Schools. But it was money the school system previously had received and accumulated in a reserve fund over a series of years.

Other items in the new city forecast that are assumed as expenditures include an annual 1 percent increase in pay for city employees; a one-time, 1 percent cost-of-living increase for retirees who have not had a change in their pensions in more than 10 years; and a $1.2 million increase in the sheriff’s cost of providing medical care to inmates at the Richmond Justice Center.

The forecast appears grim, suggesting “growth in expenditures (is) projected to outpace revenues” in each of the five budget years from 2020 to 2024.

According to the forecast, Richmond would continue a historical trend of slow growth in total revenues of less than 2 percent despite current sharp growth in property values that have led to larger annual collections of real estate taxes.

For 2020 alone, the city expects to take in $15.1 million less in revenue than needed for the $735.5 million costs projected, according to the forecast.

By 2024, the forecast indicates the city could face $778.87 million in expenses and forecasts having $770.42 million in revenue, meaning the city would have $8.45 million less in revenue than needed to meet assumed costs.

City Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, 5th District, expressed skepticism after reviewing the forecast.

He said the projections ignore the fact the city has ended the past few years with a surplus that exceeded $10 million. The forecast does not include any mention of projected surpluses.