Superintendent proposes 35.3 percent budget increase for RPS

Holly Rodriguez | 1/19/2023, 6 p.m.
Superintendent Jason Kamras is proposing a 35.3 percent operating budget increase to meet the district’s anticipated expenses for the 2023- …
Mr. Kamras

Superintendent Jason Kamras is proposing a 35.3 percent operating budget increase to meet the district’s anticipated expenses for the 2023- 2024 school year.

“This budget is a starting point based on what I’ve heard from schools,” he said.

His proposal was met with pushback from several members of the School Board who expressed concern over the request for an increased budget that they said does not resolve some of the existing issues afflicting the school system.

“We’re not addressing what’s not working,” said Nicole Jones, 9th District representative.

The budget includes five areas of focus: compensation, student wellness, English Learner Support, saving positions funded by the American Rescue Plan during the pandemic that will lose federal funding this summer and board priorities such as buying more seats in the area’s governor’s schools. Compensation ($24.2 million) increases pay for teachers and staff for the fifth consecutive year as part of a collective bargaining agreement reached by teachers and the administra- tion this year. Social workers, coun- selors, crisis support staff, and other resources are budgeted to improve student wellness ($1.9 million). For English Learner support ($1.2 million), social workers, counselors, crisis support staff and more are included to improve student outcomes. Positions previously covered by federal funding through the ARP will now need to be picked up by the school division ($6.8 million).

Other School Board priorities ($2.5 million) needing funding include: anticipated increases in utility payments, school renaming and teacher retention initiatives.

Former School Board Chair Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, 6th District, echoed Ms. Jones’concerns about the budget potentially missing the mark. “We may need to adjust funding to meet needs that have not been met,” she said. “We need a deep dive into ... what is working and is not working.”

The Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) budget calls for another $9.5 million to cover costs for structural maintenance of RPS buildings, including structural and athletics costs, upgrades to playgrounds and paving, HVAC and electrical upgrades.

Mr. Kamras said he has made significant

budget cuts to the central office, cutting $1.3 million from the budget by eliminating nine positions and cutting back on other expenditures.

Matthew Stanley, director of advocacy and outreach, presented legislative priorities for the division during this year’s General Assembly Session.

In a phone interview with the Richmond Free Press, he said the state’s measures for calculating funding needs for RPS are antiquated and do not take into consideration the high concentration of poverty that exists for city residents. “The state hasn’t changed

the way they calculate those numbers in about 50 years,” he said.

One specific measure Mr. Stanley referenced was a state budget amendment introduced by Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond for $15 million to help rebuild William Fox Elementary School.

In a phone interview, Mr. Bourne said he has always advocated for public school fund- ing from the state and the fire at Fox was an unanticipated tragedy. “This is a continuation of my efforts to get more funding for public schools,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s the kids that I’m fighting for.”