As Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney rolled out his budget proposal last week, School Board members were satisfied that the infrastructure they oversee was said to be fully funded through the end of 2019. On the other hand, some were left feeling “disappointed” that recurring money to fund the anemic Richmond Public School (RPS) system in the future is lacking in dire times.
In the proposal, $12.5 million will be dedicated to RPS for the fiscal year (FY) 2019, which exceeds the request to increase the operating budget to $303.3 million. Next year’s RPS budget will increase by $11.1 million, leading to a few new hires and a small pay increase for teachers and staff. Presumably, to cover the forecast rate of 1.9 percent inflation this year.
Although the city’s budget proposal from Stoney fully funds RPS for 2019, the one-time funding dump leaves the long-term sights of the division in a standstill as initiatives that rely on recurring funding are left without a clear future.
Last Tuesday, School Board Superintendent Jason Kamras released a statement claiming he was appreciative of the Stoney’s 2019 proposal, but explained that stability is needed for future RPS funding. In a report from Richmond Times-Dispatch, Kamras said in the statement that the FY 2019 appropriations will support the launch of the “new strategic plan” for RPS. However, the gratitude stopped there.
“At the same time, we are disappointed that there was no proposed increase in Richmond Public Schools’ operating revenue to meet the educational needs – including providing support for our growing English Language Learners student population, addressing transportation issues, and providing rich instructional experiences – for our young people.”
When asked about his one-time allocation to RPS, Stoney defended his budget proposal.
“The people of the city have a pretty good desire to ensure that every dollar is spent in our budget. Everyone has to stretch dollars and that means also my friends over at Richmond Public Schools as well,” the mayor said. “However, this $12.5 million will be able to go to the needs that they’ve requested – $11 million – in the incoming fiscal year,” he added.
The one-time $12.5 million allocation is rooted in $11 million from Richmond’s assigned fund balances coupled with $1.5 in unassigned balances. Moreover, previously unspent money from RPS is redirected into next year’s funding plan, allowing for no year-over-year increase.
Adding to the balances, teachers leaving the unsatisfactory RPS have caused an $8.3 surplus through vacancies.
Although RPS is funded through the end of 2019, a lack of increased funding from the state government and countless other projects funded by City Hall have restricted long-term goals for the capital city’s education system. Nevertheless, money was found to provide expansion for a few prioritized areas.
Some of the increases to the budget include a two percent raise for teachers and RPS staff members, hiring 17 additional English as a second language (ESL) staff and teachers, the hiring of five parents as school-family liaisons.
The school system did eliminate a hub transportation system for buses, adding to the budget. Community members have expressed frustration with the RPS transportation woes, causing students to have to rely on walking to reach hub stations.
“The system is just at its breaking point,” Kamras said.
Met with calls to fund failing school facilities, Stoney says, “We don’t have dollars on trees.”
Third District School Member Kenya Gibson took to Facebook to express her concern with the uncertainty of the RPS funding. “While our school buildings can benefit from a one-time give, our kids inside need stability.”
“We need the promise of year-over-year funding to allow us to give our teachers the same salary increase that county teachers will earn; to ensure we have a nurse in every building; and to have enough bus drivers to get our kids to school on time every morning,” she added.
Similar dissatisfaction is shared by “Support Our Schools,” Richmond’s public education advocacy group, which, in 2016, staged a rally outside City Hall demanding more funding for area schools.
“Recurring expenses should be funded with recurring revenue,” the group reportedly said. They added, “Ultimately, we’re disappointed. Calling this a fully funded plan is misstated when it only lasts a year.”
Stoney’s proposal includes a large allocation for the school division’s capital budget, funded through last month’s increase on meals tax in the city. However, his suggested budget has left his supporters wanting more funding for school infrastructure.
So, to provide for the modernization of RPS, will Stoney tax cigarettes next?