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Superintendent wants Richmond to raise property tax to help fund schools

RICHMOND, Va. – Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras is proposing that the City of Richmond raise real estate tax rates to help fund schools.

“Our children, families, and staff can't wait any longer,” Kamras said in a message to Richmond Public School families.

Kamras is asking Richmond City Council to restore the city’s property tax rate to its pre-recession level: $1.30 per $100* of assessed value.

This would be a 10-cent hike on the city's current rate of $1.20 per $100*.

The proposal would generate approximately $20 million per year for Richmond city schools, according to the superintendent.

Kamras said he would like two-thirds of the new revenue for operating costs and one-third to go towards new school construction.

“I recognize that raising property taxes might be the least popular thing an elected official can do. And I recognize it means less hard-earned money in people's pockets,” explained Kamras. “But I'm asking the Council and the City to support this nonetheless. Let's move beyond impassioned speeches about the need to do something. Let's just do it.”

To offset the burden on low-income families, Kamras is also proposing a rebate program for residents below a certain income level.

Kamras said he is also "open to any other sensible policies to make sure we don’t place an undue burden on small businesses, which have been the engine of Richmond’s recent economic expansion."

Kamras is calling for additional funds from the state. He says funding for city schools is “almost 20% below where it was before the recession - despite revenue being way up.”

He is asking for three things from the state; an increase in the percentage of Virginia Lottery proceeds that come to schools; an increase in the "at-risk add-on" for students who grow up in poverty and face other challenges; and a special pot of money for school divisions currently under a Memorandum of Understanding with the VDOE (such as RPS).

In a statement to CBS 6, the mayor’s office responded to the proposal.

“Mayor Stoney believes RPS needs more funding from the state as well as reliable funding from the city.  He and the superintendent have regular discussions about school funding, and the mayor is committed to finding funding solutions that provide RPS what it needs to be successful,” the statement read. “This is exactly the kind of conversation the Education Compact was designed to help facilitate and we look forward to having it."

In a letter to RPS families, Kamras also addressed "three of the arguments that I already know will be marshaled against this proposal:"

1)      RPS doesn't need more money; it needs better management - I firmly believe it needs both. On the management side, I have tried to demonstrate over the last several months that I take this responsibility very seriously. I brought in an entirely new senior leadership team, cut 30 positions from the central office, removed a number of individuals who were not performing adequately, reconciled our capital accounts with the City, called for a finance and operations audit (which we're beginning to implement), and added an auditor position. And I'm just getting started. During this budget cycle, I intend to slash millions of dollars currently being wasted on ineffective initiatives and reallocate those resources to people and programs that have a proven track record of success.

2)      What exactly does RPS need the money for? Does it even have a plan? - Indeed we do. As noted above, it's called Dreams4RPS and we developed it in close collaboration with stakeholders over the last several months. After more than 170 community meetings and the participation of over 3,000 people, we have a bold plan for the future built around five key priorities: 1) Exciting and Rigorous Teaching and Learning; 2) Skilled and Supported Staff; 3) Safe and Loving School Cultures; 4) Deep Partnership with Families and Community; and 5) Modern Systems and Infrastructure. You can read the full plan here.

3)      RPS already spends more per student than the counties; why does it need even more? ­­­- Because our students have much greater needs than those in Henrico, Hanover, or Chesterfield. Our student poverty rate is roughly twice what it is in Chesterfield and Henrico, and almost three times what it is in Hanover. The research on educating children who grow up in poverty is painfully clear: it's dramatically more expensive.

*The original letter from Jason Kamras indicated the tax rate was $1.20 per $1,000 of assessed value.