Break the impasse

3/31/2022, 6 p.m.
We call on members of the Richmond School Board and Richmond City Council to end this ridiculous impasse that threatens ...

We call on members of the Richmond School Board and Richmond City Council to end this ridiculous impasse that threatens to tank the sorely needed replacement of the dilapidated George Wythe High School in South Side.

Both the School Board and the City Council seem to have dug in their heels on their notions of how big a building should be constructed, i.e. whether the school should be sized to hold 1,600 students as the School Board demands, or 2,000 students as the City Council insists as it holds up $7.3 million Richmond Public Schools needs to get started on the new school’s design work.

We don’t understand why both bodies have turned this into an intractable situation. It is not.

But no progress can be made if either side refuses to come to the table. Nor can progress be made if each side refuses to budge from their position.

Councilwoman Ellen F. Robertson, 6th District, last week offered a reasonable compromise for a 1,800-student capacity school. But that has been rejected by the School Board. Now neither side wants to return to the table for talks.

If this is any indication of how the School Board and City Council are going to handle tough issues that call for dialogue and flexibility, then we shudder to think what will happen when both bodies start dealing with contract and salary negotiations for city employees and school teachers who just recently have been granted collective bargaining rights. That may be a future mess in the making.

At this point, it would be wise for City Council and the School Board to bring in an independent mediator or arbiter who can help the two bodies come to some agreement.

George Wythe High sits on a 27-plus acre site between Crutchfield Street and Midlothian Turnpike. Can a new high school be designed for that site that would include a 1,800-student-capacity building for near-term use, along with specific details for the building’s expansion to accommodate perhaps 2,500 students or more if needed in the next decade or so?

The School Board and City Council must end this impasse, and we call on members of both bodies to get to work.

What is clear is that School Board and City Council members, by their inaction, are making Richmond’s students the biggest losers. Yes, the thousands of Black and Brown youngsters and families in South Richmond who have been waiting nearly two decades for a new George Wythe will bear the brunt of this logjam as they are forced to remain in decrepit classrooms in a rundown, 62-year-old building.

Richmond voters elected School Board and City Council members to be problem solvers, not problem creators. And the voters won’t care whose fault this is when the November 2024 School Board and City Council elections roll around. But they may be fed up enough with this nonsensical stalemate that harms our city’s children to throw everyone out of office.