RPS budget gap doesn’t stop school construction

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Mayor Dwight Jones and some other city leaders toured the construction sites for two South Richmond schools Wednesday.

The project was delayed for several months because the bids were higher than the estimated cost of the project — $16 to $18 million over budget — for the four new schools.

However, some think that money for the new schools should be used to fill Richmond Public Schools’ (RPS) $16.5 million budget shortfall, which must be addressed by June 4.

“The projects you see today are one time projects,” said Major Jones. “This is money we use one time for schools.”

In fact, officials said the project falls under the city’s capital improvement budget, and cannot be moved to the city’s general operation budget, which funds schools.

CBS 6 News’ Sandra Jones asked the mayor if he would choose to move that money if he could.

“We have laid out a blueprint,” said Jones. “If they follow the blueprint, they’ll be ok. And if, we have more money we’ll try to give it to them. We want the schools to succeed. And we want to be very clear about that.”.

The Mayor’s Press Secretary Tammy Hawley said both School Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon and School Board Chair Dawn Paige, who represents the district, were invited on the tour. But a school spokesperson said they were out of town for a pre-scheduled event. 

However, RPS’s Chief Financial Officer Andy Hawkins did attend the tour.

“We’re going to have teachers in them. We’re going to have students in them. One way or the other,” said Hawkins said one way or another.

Despite the school system’s financial budget woes, leaders said the district will continue to do more with less.

“Our main goal is to be good custodians of the taxpayer funds. So, whatever it saves it will be well worth it,” said Hawkins

City Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who represents the 8th district, said she is pleased to see new schools coming on line, but at what cost?

“What’s he going to do, throw these teachers and those children under the bus — and all the staff that works there,” asked Trammell. “I don’t want to see anybody lose their jobs. No one. They don’t need to lose their jobs.”

For now, the financial outlook for Richmond Public Schools is still up in the air.

School leaders will meet Thursday, May 24 and May 29 at 4:30 p.m. to discuss the budget.

Stay with CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for the most complete coverage of the Richmond Public Schools budget crisis.