Richmond school board leaders work around budget challenges

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Richmond school leaders are finding new ways to deal with budget woes.

On a Saturday afternoon, it’s all quiet outside City Hall.  However, inside the building on the 17th floor, a passionate debate has Richmond school leaders working around the clock.

“When you talk about those types of reductions, it does get contentious,” Jeffrey Bourne, a Richmond School Board chairman, said.

School Superintendent Dr. Yvonne Brandon proposed closing an $11 million budget shortfall by outsourcing hundreds of jobs and increasing class sizes that would eliminate some teaching positions.

But that wasn’t the consensus among the board.  In fact, one board member suggested cutting from the central office to close the gap.

“I would ask them to go back and look at the money that’s spent here at City Hall and find those savings so that we can in fact close that budget gap while we hold teachers and classrooms harmless,” 1st district school board member, Glen Sturtevant, said.

“I couldn’t agree more, and we have the data to prove it,” Andy Hawkins, RPS Chief Operating Officer, said.  “RPS’s administrative costs are below the state average, and they’re below two and half percent of the entire budget cost.”

Chairman Jeffrey Bourne raised another cost-saving idea, saying board members should take a pay cut too.

“I think it sends a message that, yes, your school board member, the ones that are advocating for you are with you in this struggle and these budget challenges.”

The budget shortfall is not unique to RPS.  Chesterfield, Henrico and Hanover are all facing funding challenges.  While Richmond and other school systems determine where to cut, the governor is calling for measures to make schools and campuses around the Commonwealth safer.

The governor’s legislation is in response to the deadly shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.  It includes lockdown drill, threat assessment teams, making it a separate crime to enter a school armed, and funding for facility and security upgrades.

“Anything we can do, we’re going to do,” Bourne said.  “Just ensuring that our children are safe and able to have a wonderful learning environment is paramount and our highest duty.”

Richmond school leaders say if the money is not there for security upgrades, it will be tough to do.

“I think we’ll be in a wait and see as far as what the funding structure is,” Bourne said.  “Clearly, we just talked about our budget challenegs and so any additional mandate will only exacerbate the problem.”

School administrators will present board members with more recommendations at its next budget work session on Monday.

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