‘Fund our Schools!’ rallies continue in Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Parents, students, teachers and administrators rallied outside of Richmond City Hall Monday night for the second time in two weeks.

Several carried signs and chanted “Fund our Schools!”

Earlier Monday evening, more than 100 people marched from Martin Luther King Middle School to City Hall to protest a proposal by the Richmond School Board to close Armstrong High School, John B. Cary Elementary, Overby-Sheppard Elementary, Swansboro Elementary and Southampton Elementary schools.

Rally on City Hall steps

Rally on City Hall steps

The board also proposed merging three specialty schools in an effort to shrink the school district’s $18 million budget gap.

In March, Mayor Dwight Jones presented a budget that only included $5 million of the $18 million requested to fix aging buildings and address safety concerns.  School board members say unless the city council can allocate additional funding in this year’s proposed budget, closing schools may be unavoidable.

While the city council did not have school budget concerns on Monday night’s consent agenda, several angry protesters interrupted regular proceedings and demanded answers from council members.

“All my money is going to taxes, taxes, taxes,” cried one emotional parent. “You mean to tell me you can’t keep the schools open!”

While council members assured the overflow crowd that they were mulling over the budget to find additional funding, they say allocating an additional $18 million would be unrealistic.

“The money is not hidden somewhere. We’re going to try and cut every bit of waste out of this budget,” said council member Chris Hilbert.

However, Hilbert and Council President Michelle Mosby both expressed concern over spending by school board members.  Mosby said additional funding allocated last year for the school district, was not used for intended purposes.  She said plans to demolish Elkhardt Middle School, for example, were never carried out.

“We took it from every department in our city and gave nine million more dollars and we were told that this was going to happen, and that was going to happen, and many things did not happen,” Mosby said.

School board member Kim Gray, who holds the 2nd district seat, defended the board’s spending. She argued that additional funds last year were for capital improvement projects, not the operating budget.

She said dilapidated school facilities led to several emergency expenditures that the board hadn’t planned for in the fiscal budget.

“You can look at our spending and look at our check register and see where every dime has gone,” Gray said. “We’re putting more money in the classroom than ever.”

Gray said school board members have met twice with city council members for budget discussions.  She hoped a more public discussion between the two groups could take place in the coming weeks.

Mayor Jones meets with council members Monday

Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones met with council members, along with school and city leaders, Monday to discuss ways to generate sustainable revenue to avoid budget shortfalls in the future.

A formula is needed, city leaders said, to help take care of outdated buildings, transportation, and salaries.

Richmond Public School officials have proposed closing six schools and reducing bus service due to a budget shortfall.

Though nothing concrete came from the talks, the mayor and school superintendent agreed that the conversations are a step in the right direction for Richmond Public Schools.