RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Some Richmond public students are taking a stand against what they call “life-threatening” conditions inside school buildings. Students have made their displeasure known to city and school leaders outside City Hall, during council meetings and on social media.
They said they will continue to speak out until they are satisfied Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones has received their message.
“We should be more of a priority than we are right now,” Open High School student Levi Bane said.
“Mr. Mayor, I would like you to know that the students are watching and the students know the decisions that you’re making and we are not satisfied,” Open High School student Kelvin Tyler said.
The teens said they were not satisfied with recent decisions to put money and effort towards projects like bringing Redskins Training Camp to Richmond, a new baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom and investments in the Altria Theater while city schools continue to crumble.
What is actually happening inside Richmond schools that has students so upset? We took cameras inside several city schools to see for ourselves and questioned a Richmond School Board member about the conditions we saw.
“This took decades to get to this point and it has been neglected for tens and tens of years and several cycles of elected officials,” Richmond School Board member Kim Gray admitted.
Gray provided CBS 6’s Lorenzo Hall with a letter the school board sent to city leaders last May. It questioned city leaders about their decision to allocate less than $1 million for repairs at 50 schools when the board requested $8 million.
Also, an assessment report of school facilities shows the district is in need of at least $100 million right now to fix everything from the brick exterior at John Marshall High School, to the vinyl asbestos floor tiles at Woodville Elementary.
Some of the problems have even become critical since that report was drafted, like an emergency roof repair at Fairfield Elementary, after a soggy ceiling tile fell on a student.
CBS 6 also obtained a letter from RPS Superintendent, Dr. Dana Bedden sent to Richmond’s Chief Administrative Officer, Byron Marshall. In the letter, Bedden is requesting more than $700,000 for “capital projects that have approached emergency level,” like a roof replacement at Thompson Middle School and additional fixes at Fairfield Elementary.
Hall went to Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones about the snowballing school repair issues. Jones says, “You have to determine if you’re going to spend a lot of money fixing up a building that is ultimately going to be mothballed.”
Jones recently agreed to give the school system more than $18 million for building repairs over the next five years, beginning with $5 million later this year. Before more money is given, Jones says he wants the school board to shutter some of its underutilized schools, which he calls a big waste of money.
“Nobody wants to close schools, but that’s the hard job they signed up for. They’re going to have to do it. They’re going to have to find a way, the most efficient and economical way,” said Jones.
Gray confirms, board members will explore shuttering some schools again, but says the mayor still needs to provide more money in the meantime to prevent hazards like the one at Fairfield Elementary.
Dr. Bedden sent CBS 6 the following statement as it pertains to school repairs:
“The condition of our school buildings and subsequent plan of action require a larger conversation between school leaders, city administration and the residents we serve about right-sizing the district. The overarching issue is defining the type of schools we want to have from both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint. Once that is addressed, we must then ask ourselves what are we willing to do and commit to make that vision a reality.”