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GOLDMAN: On school funding, Richmond City Council breaking state law

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

Paul Goldman is a local lawyer who helped run Doug Wilder's historic campaign for governor of Virginia.

RICHMOND, Va. – Does Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, Richmond City Council, the City Attorney, the School Board Attorney and all the other lawyers hired by the city in various capacities – it totals into the many millions – bother to read the law, much less understand it so you can do things legally

Councilwoman Robertson and her colleagues are in a funding fight with the School Board, a war of words and letters seen as bullying by objective analysts. The Council is also wrong on the law.

The goal of more accountability, transparency and efficiency in spending the education dollars appropriated from the city budget to RPS is a good one.

But trying to do it illegally is doomed to failure.

WHY NOT DO IT LEGALLY?

In 2005, then City Council President Manoli Loupassi and I got the General Assembly to give Richmond – with Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine’s help – a NEW LEGAL TOOL TO ADDRESS THESE SCHOOL FUNDING ISSUES IN THE RIGHT WAY.

We were concerned with the dysfunctional way school funding had long been done.

The Goldman/Loupassi school reform [I came up with the idea] is described on the General Assembly website as giving “the mayor and council greater control over the school budget.”

But not for political reasons, rather for reasons of reform, transparency and fiscal responsibility.

IT STOPS THE POLITICAL BULLYING. IT STARTS A NEW COOPERATIVE PROCESS.

We did it on a bipartisan basis, but instead of using this new tool, the Mayor, the Council and the lawyers want to play games at the expense of the school children here in 2014.

What does the historic reform do?

Prior to this 2005 law, the Mayor and City Council only had the legal authority to give the School System a lump sum appropriation. What does that mean?

Under the City Charter, the School Board submits a proposed budget with line item expenditures totaling X amount. For analysis purposes, assume the Mayor and Council agree to give them this X amount based on the line items. BUT UNDER THE LUMP SUM APPROACH, the line items previously submitted are not binding on the School Board once it gets the lump sum appropriation. They can legally spend X in any manner they later choose, heck with the proposed budget!

In effect, the Mayor and City Council cannot hold the School Board accountable for the budget used to calculate X dollars appropriated. It makes the process a fiscal joke.

I believe this LUMP SUM APPROPRIATION APPROACH encourages the kind of fiscal issues that were plaguing the school system. So I scoured the state law and discovered an easy fix, right there in Section 22.1-94 of the Code of Virginia.

While the then-existing City Charter required Richmond to give the money in a lump sum, state law allowed Richmond to adopt the CATEGORY METHOD, using the specific categories contained in Section 22.1-115 of the Code of Virginia.

Instead of giving the School Board a lump sum of X to spend as they see legally fit, the category method allows the Mayor and City Council to allocate X into nine defined categories, forbidding the School Board to spend any more for that category than the amount specifically appropriated.

Category appropriations add up to the same X total from nine defined individual allocations.

Manoli and I realized this approach would bring an historic first cooperative oversight and accountability of tax dollars spent by the RPS. The category approach permits the School Board to come back to Council during the year to ask for more money in a specific category: or transfer between categories.

Is the category funding approach the best possible process? Of course not. But it is the best option legally available.

Being practical – and innovative – is the job of governing.

Manoli and I did what responsible folks do, we didn’t complain, we acted.

But despite the 2005 change, IT HAS NEVER BEEN USED.

This is just like the Shockoe Stadium fiasco, the Mayor, the Council are LONG ON TALK, but short on WALK.

Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.

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