School Board adopts $331M budget for 2020-21

Ronald E. Carrington | 5/21/2020, 6 p.m.
The Richmond School Board on Monday adopted a $331 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The Richmond School Board on Monday adopted a $331 million budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that begins July 1.

The budget is roughly $24 million less than the district hoped, but includes a 2 percent raise for teachers and staff, plus a 1.17 percent step increase for teachers, principals and nurses.

“This gives the district an added advantage as our teachers will be some of the highest paid in the region and the nation,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said, following the board’s 6-3 vote approving the budget plan.

The budget also includes new salary schedules for custodians, bus operators and instructional assistants, and includes money for 15 new K-3 teachers to reduce class sizes, 10 new English as a Second Language teachers, 10 new preschool teachers to help expand the Virginia Preschool Initiative enrollment by more than 250 students, nine new social workers, eight new middle school teachers and five additional school nurses.

To make $24 million in cuts from the budget, the board decided to eliminate three positions from the ASPIRE program that helps older students earn a diploma, for a savings of $300,000. Three teachers from the program will fill vacancies at other schools, Mr. Kamras said during his presentation.

Several board members wanted to completely phase out the ASPIRE program to save money.

Additionally, three vacant positions in the chief academic office in RPS’ central office were eliminated, saving another $300,000. Those vacant positions are an early childhood education coordinator, an exceptional education coordinator and director of assessment and research.

Some board members wanted 10 central office jobs to be cut.

Board members Kenya Gibson, 3rd District; Jonathan Young, 4th District; and Dr. Patrick Sapini, 5th District, voted against approving the budget because of concerns that ample funding has not been set aside nor has enough contingency planning been done to address the coronavirus crisis and potential future impacts.

During the board’s meeting on May 14, Mr. Kamras expressed support for having year-round school. However, he reminded the board that additional school days would cost $5 million per week, which RPS does not have in reserve.

According to Mr. Kamras, Richmond is to receive $13 million in stimulus funding from the U.S Department of Education. However, Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, has stipulated that $3 million must be shared with private schools.

“This is being challenged” by lawyers for RPS,” Mr. Kamras told the board.

The School Board also expressed worries about the 2020-21 academic year and the possibility that schools may remain closed or close again during a fall resurgence of COVID-19. The school system is awaiting guidance from the state Department of Education, which is preparing plans to submit to the governor this month.

RPS Chief Academic Officer Tracy Epp and her staff presented details of a new K-8 reading and math curricula to be implemented during the upcoming academic year.

During the last three board meetings and information sessions, parents and teachers con- sistently expressed reservations about whether the next academic year will be the best time to implement a new curriculum because there is no concrete plan now on how the district will go back to school.

The budget adopted by the School Board included an amendment stipulating that if the board doesn’t approve $1.5 million for the new curriculum later in the year, the money will go to RPS’ COVID-19 response.