Richmond School Board grapples with $24.5M budget shortfall

Ronald E. Carrington | 4/23/2020, 6 p.m.
The Richmond School Board is holding a special meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23, to continue discussing how to handle ...
Mr. Kamras

The Richmond School Board is holding a special meeting 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23, to continue discussing how to handle a $24.5 million shortfall in the proposed 2020-21 budget from the loss of city revenue stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.

The public can submit comments and questions by 1 p.m. Thursday to be taken up by the board that will be streamed live on the Richmond Public Schools’ Facebook page.

The $24.5 million shortfall was announced at the School Board meeting Monday night. Superintendent Jason Kamras told the board there was a $7 million shortfall in the 2020-21 budget the School Board adopted in March. But with the city’s revenue projections revised downward because of the coronavirus impact, the amount of money RPS is expecting from the city had to be lowered.

This means revisiting, and possibly cutting, all budget expenditures above $500,000, including the planned 4 percent pay raise for teachers, preschool transportation increases as well as more than 20 teaching positions, according to the administration’s budget documents.

The administration recommended maintaining funding for the school system’s STEM academies, pay increases for support staff, annual step increases in pay and for 15 additional reading specialists and 20 additional attendance positions.

“The Virginia Department of Education estimates RPS will receive roughly $13.2 million in federal stimulus money, which comes with some stipulations about how it can be spent,” Mr. Kamras said, adding the stipulations are fairly broad.

Because the stimulus is a one-time payment, the administration’s recommendation is to apply the dollars toward coronavirus-related costs, not the shortfall, such as disinfecting schools, buying personal protective equipment for staff and providing academic interventions to make up for lost learning time.

“It would be prudent for the school system to reserve funds for the possibility of having to close again in case of another outbreak next year,” Mr. Kamras said.

The board is expected to adopt the 2020-21 budget at its meeting on May 18.

However, as the district struggles with adjusting the budget and the COVID-19 crisis, there is good news. School Board member Jonathan Young, 4th District, said because of the pandemic, RPS has built a new virtual learning platform “and most students and parents are pleased with it.”

“With the learning platforms, we will be able to meet our students where they are academically much better than in the past,” he said. Additionally, the administration is still in conversation with J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College to develop a career and technical education facility in RPS’ Altria Building on South Side off Jefferson Davis Highway.

“We are going to go forward with that,” Mr. Young said in a Free Press interview Tuesday. “It is likely an agreement will be executed allowing RPS to partner with Reynolds as soon as this year.”

Mr. Kamras said the college expressed interest in leasing part of the facility to start work to expand their capacity, as well as providing an additional revenue stream for the school district.

Have Your Say

Questions or comments for the Richmond School Board? Submit them by 1 p.m. Thursday, April 23, to the School Board clerk at http://mailto: speakers@rvaschoo...">speakers@rvaschoo....

The meeting, which starts at 6 p.m. that day, will be streamed live on the Richmond Public Schools Facebook page at http://www.facebo...">www.facebook.com/....