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Thousands petition to modernize Richmond schools

RICHMOND, Va., -- A political group made up of Richmond citizens gathered in front of City Hall to call on Mayor Levar Stoney to renovate the city's "obsolete" schools, Thursday morning.

The School Modernization Charter Change campaign revealed they have collected more than 6,600 signatures on their petition titled, "Fulfilling the Promise of Equal Educational Opportunities," since they began their efforts on Primary Day.

The proposal, if passed, would require Mayor Stoney to "formally present to the City Council a fully-funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform City Council such a plan is not feasible" within six months.

Goldman said working in City Hall in 2005 when former-Mayor Douglas Wilder was in office gives him the knowledge that creating such a plan is feasible.

"Somewhere I'm guessing between $18 and $20 million a year will do it. That's less than 3% of the city budget and it gets less every year," Goldman said. "It doesn't include tax revenues and other things that have not yet been appropriated."

Goldman estimated it would take $400 to $600 million to fully renovate Richmond's schools.

When asked where the Mayor and City Council, which allocates money for the Richmond Public School's budget, could find the extra money Goldman suggested there should be cuts made to other departments including Stoney's office.

"Would it take some tough decisions? Would the mayor have his biggest staff he has now?" Goldman asked. "When I worked there I did five of the jobs that they're doing."

The proposal would also require the Mayor's plan not to include any new or increases in taxes.

During the press conference, Goldman estimated that two-thirds to three-quarters of Richmond's schools drastically need to be updated.

Jim Nolan, the Mayor's press secretary, said in a statement:

 “The Mayor is committed to making investments in school facilities in a responsible and sustainable way. The proposed RVA Education Compact, which ensures collaboration between the Mayor’s Office, City Council and the  Board, will chart a responsible path forward to address needed investments in school infrastructure.”

Goldman said their goal is to collect the 10,400 signatures necessary to make it on November's ballot. The proposal would also need approval from the General Assembly in addition to a yes from a majority of Richmond's voters.

The group's website, putschoolsfirst.org, read  "The status quo is unacceptable."

Read the full proposed Charter Change below:

Section 6.15 – FULFILLING THE PROMISE OF EQUAL EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES.
(a) Preamble –
“Education is the great equalizer” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely taught us. In their historic Brown v Board of Education decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court said “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” They concluded the opportunity for an education “is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.” The Justices further indicated the “physical condition of the school plant” could deny this fundamental right.
In 1970, Virginians by public referendum adopted a new state constitution to ensure equality of educational opportunity.
Yet national and Virginia studies show the average public school facility has been allowed to age into obsolescence. Thus while Richmond’s facilities are collectively more obsolete, our situation is not unique. Respected experts have long warned that students spending their public school lifetimes in such facilities suffer significant and permanent educational detriment.
Dr. King famously observed a right delayed is a right denied. We, the people, have therefore chosen to lead. We believe our success can set a needed example for the nation.
(b) DUTY OF THE MAYOR
Not later than six months after this section becomes law, the Mayor shall formally present to the City Council a fully-funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform City Council such a plan is not feasible. In fulfilling the duties herein, the Mayor shall consult with the School Board, City Council, consider cost savings available in state or federal law and further provide an opportunity for public participation.
(c)  NO NEW OR INCREASED TAXES
The fully-funded plan required in subsection (b) cannot be based on the passage of new or increased taxes for that purpose.
(d)  DUTY OF THE SCHOOL BOARD
Nothing herein shall alter powers previously given to the School Board.
(f)  DUTY OF THE CITY COUNCIL
Once the Mayor has complied with subsection (b), the City Council shall have 90 days to take such action as it deems appropriate.