Mom can’t believe Richmond never spent nearly $80,000 meant for students with special needs

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Judah Wilkes may look like your average six-year-old kid, but the Southampton Elementary School kindergartner faces challenges most other classmates do not. Wilkes has autism and a hearing impairment. He receives Special Education support at school.

"They’re definitely understaffed, just seeing the special education teachers at schools, that’s why I wanted to keep him in a main stream class," Judah’s mother Alexandria Wilkes said.

Based on her experience with her son, Wilkes said she was shocked to learn Richmond Public Schools did not use all of the federal funds they were recently given to help Special Education students.

"It’s heartbreaking," Wilkes, who has been pushing for her son to have his own aid, said. "I feel as a human being if you can help someone in need it’s our duty to do it."

The federal government recently gave Richmond Public School $6.2 million to spend on Special Education. Most of the money was spent. However, according to documents obtained by WTVR CBS 6, nearly $80,000 went unspent.

Richmond School Board Member Kim Gray said that money could have helped a department that has been hit hard over the years.

"Since 2009 we’ve cut drastically positions, so there are capacity issues there," Gray said. "We've lost some of our senior staff."

Of the unspent money, $15,000 was available for a Parent Resource Center. More than $20,000 could have been used at the preschool level. Documents showed Richmond Public Schools was the only local school system that did not use its entire preschool grant money.

"For Richmond Public Schools just to make that decision not to help a child in need, I just don’t understand that," Wilkes said.

Richmond Schools Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden and the Executive Director of Exceptional Education and Student Services Dr. Michelle Boyd declined to speak with WTVR CBS 6 on camera about the unspent money.

A school system spokeswoman pointed out that nearly 99 percent of the $6.2 million grant was spent.

"Maybe when you’re looking at things from an overall perspective it looks like it’s not that much, but, when you’re looking at each child individually as a human being, as a human life and the needs that they need to become successful and independent, it’s a lot," Wilkes said.

A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education said that under federal law, any money a school district does not spend gets redistributed elsewhere.

Kim Gray said she has spoken with Dr. Bedden asking to audit the Special Education department.

Henrico and Chesterfield school systems also returned money. However, it was not as much as Richmond.

A spokesman for Henrico County Public Schools said some funds went unspent because budgeted items came in below the quoted pricing.

A  Chesterfield spokesman said money not spent in that school system was within a very narrow time frame with specific restrictions.