One of the biggest topics spoken throughout Virginia’s capital city is the state of Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and the under-maintained, asbestos-laden, crumbling infrastructure that houses the school children of Richmonders. Although the problem has been centered on the River City, a state senator from the rolling hills of rural Southside Virginia has found a common cause with the crumbling schools that dot the metropolitan area of Richmond.
As lawmakers have met back in Richmond for the debate over the two-year state budget, Senator Bill Stanley (R-Franklin County) took it upon himself to announce on Tuesday that he will create a General Assembly subcommittee that will address public concerns surrounding “obsolete” school facilities not only in Richmond, but throughout the Commonwealth.
“Studies clearly show the damaging impact obsolete crumbling schools have on school children in rural, suburban and urban localities,” he said according to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
As current acting chairman of the Senate Local Government Committee, Stanley has credited the conditions of buildings and facilities found within the Richmond school division as “being the catalyst” in forming the subcommittee to look at plagued school districts around Virginia. For him, lackluster school buildings that are the product of under-maintenance, under-funding, and lack of attention are a large problem in Richmond, but also in almost every area in the Commonwealth.
Stanley has named former Richmond School Board member Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) and Senator Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) as co-vice chairman of the subcommittee.
Last week, Sturtevant’s landmark legislation, Senate Bill 750, prohibiting basing the fully-funded RPS modernization plan on the passage of new or increased taxes, was signed into law by governor Northam. The bill requires Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney to produce a plan within six months to provide for the modernization of RPS facilities.
Political consultant and architect of the referendum on which Sturtevant’s bill was based, Paul Goldman, was named by Stanley to the subcommittee as special counsel and policy adviser. Goldman’s referendum, while not supported by Mayor Stoney, passed with overwhelming support from 85 percent of Richmonders.
Other Richmond area lawmakers tapped to the subcommittee were Senators Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico).
The nine-member subcommittee also features Senator Barbara Favola (D-Arlington). She applauded Stanley for his novel initiative, but met her credit with caution has she explained that local governments and municipalities will not be able to mend or replace obsolete school buildings and facilities without new sources of funding.
“I do hope the subcommittee can come up with venues for localities to access capital at discounted rates or favorable terms,” Favola said.
Goldman has been adamant that the funding gap in the RPS modernization plan can be paid for by reducing frills located in Stoney’s city budget. The complete modernization of all 44 RPS schools is estimated at $800 million over the next 20 years.