Kamras releases details of approved schools cuts

Ronald E. Carrington | 3/8/2019, noon
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras made public on Monday details of the 74 positions to be eliminated in a ...
Jason Kamras

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras made public on Monday details of the 74 positions to be eliminated in a $300 million budget plan that was adopted Feb. 25 by the Richmond School Board.

Mr. Kamras had come under criticism from the board and schools advocates for a lack of transparency in not releasing details to the public before the budget plan was approved by the board.

Mr. Kamras announced in January that he planned to cut 49 jobs from the Richmond Public Schools’ central administration in an effort to trim $13 million from the budget. He said at the time and maintained recently that privacy rules prevented him from disclosing more details about the jobs to be slashed.

The surprise in the details released Monday showed that 74 positions would be stricken under the approved budget, while another 25 positions would be added, bringing the total reduction to 49.

Ten of the positions slated for elimination are currently vacant. The majority of the job cuts — 51 positions — would come from RPS’ chief operating office and chief schools office, including cutting the jobs of 17 attendance officers who check on students who are chronically absent from school and nine slots in facilities that include custodial and maintenance workers.

The Richmond school system has been under siege because of dilapidated conditions of school buildings and lack of maintenance and upkeep. RPS also has one of the highest student dropout rates in the state at 19.5 percent, meaning nearly 1 in every 5 students in city schools drops out.

Also targeted in the cuts are five exceptional education instructors and two in the Virginia Pre-School Initiative. Four professional development positions also would be cut.

Under the plan, a security and safety specialist would be added, along with five school-based custodians among other positions.

Board members questioned how the 25 jobs funded through the school system’s strategic plan, which was funded in Mr. Kamras’ budget, will factor into the equation.

Mr. Kamras said he would get that information to the board at a later date.

Board members Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, Dr. Patrick Sapini, 5th District, and Felicia Cosby, 6th District, said at Monday night’s meeting that they are concerned about day-to-day operations and possible negative effects by the cuts on classroom instruction.

Mr. Kamras responded that his administration is looking at the best way to move forward with the proposed cuts while honoring the affected employees with respect and dignity.

“In this process, we want to engage our (affected) employees and many of those conversations will be taking place in the next several weeks,” he said, noting officials will offer those targeted for cuts with options of transferring to other positions within the school system or elsewhere in city government.

Fourteen employees, who addressed the School Board during Monday’s meeting, expressed concern about what would happen to the employees and the families of those whose jobs are slated for elimination.

“A reasonable and possible solution to the budget problem would be a hiring freeze, which is common practice in the private sector,” said a woman who works in the RPS payroll office, but did not want to be identified.

A soon-to-be cut media manager, who also did not want to be identified, told the board, “while school systems all over the state would love to have a creative services team, this administration doesn’t see the department’s value.” He said multimedia productions are potential income generators for the school system and could provide an additional revenue stream to support the schools’ strategic plan.

The $13 million in cuts comes as Mayor Levar Stoney announced Wednesday that his city operating budget would include $18 million more for RPS to help fund the strategic plan.

In other matters, Mr. Kamras introduced his vision and goals for a rezoning plan that he hopes to be complete in June and would go into effect for the 2020-21 school year, giving parents and students time to adjust to any changes.

He said the goals for the rezoning would include easing overcrowding, while planning for future population trends; placing students in modern facilities through potential school consolidations and closures; and increasing diversity within schools.