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School Board gives final approval to $418M spending plan

Jerermy M. Lazarus and Ronald E. Carrington | 6/7/2019, 6 a.m. | Updated on 6/10/2019, 11:12 a.m.
Backed by a $25 million boost in contributions from city taxpayers, the Richmond School Board Tuesday approved spending a record ...

Backed by a $25 million boost in contributions from city taxpayers, the Richmond School Board Tuesday approved spending a record $16,814 for each of the 24,800 students projected to be served in the 2019-20 budget year that begins July 1.

Ranking Richmond among the most expensive school districts in the state, the budgeted cost for public education in the new fiscal year represents an 8.5 percent increase over the previous record of $15,423 budgeted this year for 25,300 students.

That level of spending per student appears to undermine the argument that RPS’ poor showing on everything from on-time graduation to reading achievement is due to underfunding and a lack of resources.

Quite the contrary. The spending package narrowly approved by the School Board on a 5-4 vote is the highest ever for public education in the city — $418 million, including about $398 million in city, state and federal dollars for instruction and operations.

The total also includes $19 million — one of the largest sums in decades — that Mayor Levar M. Stoney and City Council earmarked for school maintenance. It will help RPS take a bite out of the estimated $82 million needed to replace old roofs, air conditioning and heating systems and deal with other maintenance needs in the aging inventory of buildings.

Among the highlights, the approved 2019-20 budget includes sufficient state and city funding to provide Richmond teachers and other eligible school staff with a promised 3 percent pay raise beginning July 1, and to provide a bigger boost for some, including principals, by moving them up the salary scale.

In addition, City Council provided sufficient funds to cover the full cost of the first two years of Superintendent Jason Kamras’ plan to improve academic achievement. That includes funding to launch new remedial reading and math programs. But Mr. Kamras’ success in keeping funding intact for his plan leaves him on the hook to prove his Dreams4RPS approach will work.

“I am filled with gratitude for the School Board, City Council, Mayor Stoney and, most of all, the community for advocating for Richmond Public Schools” and gaining more funding, Mr. Kamras said after the School Board’s vote.

In all, the city’s contribution to school operations alone soared $18 million, including about $6 million to pay for the salary increases.

The spending package became a reality after the board majority adopted amendments crafted by board members Elizabeth Doerr, 1st District, and Jonathan Young, 4th District. Those amendments cleared up an unexpected $1.7 million budget overrun that developed since the initial school budget was approved in February.

The overrun was largely due to an unanticipated $1 million increase in health insurance costs and a proposal from Mr. Kamras to spend $400,000 to provide severance pay to many of the 60 RPS employees losing their jobs as part of a $13 million reduction in spending on central administration. The severance would provide qualifying departing employees with a week’s pay for every two years of service to RPS, although the specific details have not been released.