Richmond School Board starts rezoning process

Ronald E. Carrington | 2/8/2019, 6 a.m.
After months of debate, Richmond Public Schools is revisiting rezoning. But this time, there is a plan and a timeline ...

After months of debate, Richmond Public Schools is revisiting rezoning. But this time, there is a plan and a timeline in place.

On Monday night, Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras presented to the School Board a district-wide rezoning and facilities planning process that is expected to take more than a year. This comes as the administration addresses district rezoning and selling or repurposing vacant and non-instructional facilities.

The superintendent’s proposal is designed to address present school overcrowding while anticipating future populations trends; school consolidations and closures as new facilities are built; diversity to ensure equity and more effective transportation.

“Once these measures are done,” Mr. Kamras said, “the administration would bring draft proposals to the board and the community, with a goal of having a final proposal ready for approval in October 2019.

“This would give the district just under a year to implement the plan and families will have a full academic year to respond to the changes that may or may not occur.”

Board member Linda Owen, 9th District, expressed excitement about the rezoning plan but cautioned the administration about student groupings as they progress through the public schools, starting in elementary through high school.

“As the board does this work, we need to make sure the progression from lower school to high school is logical,” Ms. Owen said. “We don’t want to have students who have been with the same group in lower and middle schools, and then send them across the city to a high school with a totally different group of students.”

An Ohio-based demographics firm, Cropper GIS, has been tapped by RPS to evaluate trends and conduct a needs assessment.

School Board Vice Chair Elizabeth “Liz” Doerr, 1st District, was concerned about past rezoning lessons learned and the benefits and shortfalls as they impact the district today.

“Using a demographics firm is very helpful,” Ms. Doerr said, “but sometimes they may not know the pulse of community developments and plans in our respective districts, which may change the forecast.”

Ms. Doerr also wanted to ensure vacant and non-instructional properties are evaluated to make sure tax credits, economic opportunity zones or historical landmark considerations are reviewed before RPS makes decisions on the future of these facilities.

“There are enough smart people in Richmond willing to help us through the structures of selling and making sure the money stays within RPS,” she said.

The board agreed that Mr. Kamras’ proposal was a starting point to make the rezoning process as transparent as possible as the community makes tough decisions.

The plan also included raising funds for new school construction by disposing of vacant and properties that are not used for instruction by selling or renting them.

The vacant properties include the former Norrell Annex, Ruffin Road Elementary School, Clark Springs Elementary School and the former Altria building in South Side. RPS also owns four additional non-instructional facilities — Arthur Ashe Jr. Athletic Center, Norrell Elementary School, Facilities/Nutrition and the Transportation Depot — which are all lying dormant. The district’s bus garage repair center and VATEX Center are rented non-instructional buildings.

The administration will hire an outside consultant specializing in property assessment to help in the determinations.

Mr. Kamras expects to present draft rezoning plans to the School Board and the public sometime between June and September, with approval in October and the new zones to be implemented for the school year starting in August 2020.