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Funding for Richmond Public Schools Hangs in the Balance

Richmond's FY19-20 budget includes 18 million in new funding for Richmond Public Schools.
Richmond's FY19-20 budget includes 18 million in new funding for Richmond Public Schools. (Image: Ben Dolle/WCVE)

It’s that time of year again: budget season for cities and counties in the region, including Richmond. For this week’s  Learning Curve, education reporter Megan Pauly chats with city reporter Roberto Roldan about the latest budget discussions for the city of Richmond, and local school board.

Transcript:

Pauly: Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed a budget with some new money for Richmond Public Schools. Roberto, you were at the announcement. Tell us more about it.

Roldan: Yeah so Stoney made a budget presentation to City Council two weeks ago and it includes more than $18 million in new revenue for the public school system. He’s pitching the budget as a big investment in the city’s young people.

Stoney: “I urge us all to embrace this bold opportunity to change the course of this city for its residents and for its children.”  

Roldan: The largest chunk of that new revenue will go to a five percent pay raise for teachers. The rest will go towards funding some of the goals outlined in the district’s five-year strategic plan.

Pauly: Yes, and District officials gave school board members a  $14 million dollar estimate for this year’s strategic plan. There were a total of  48 new positions added under this plan, including 10 enrichment specialists and 10 new bus operator positions. 

Roldan: And there were cuts to the budget, too - right?

Pauly: That’s right. Kamras proposed  cutting 74 positions, and then adding 25. The details of these positions - including elimination of 17 filled attendance officer roles and three vacant ones - were not disclosed to the public before the school board vote. That upset many including school board member Kenya Gibson. She and two others voted against the budget.

Gibson: “The people that are in the roles in the school are serving a public service and so the public deserves to understand if we're eliminating these attendance officers for instance, how is that going to work now?”

Pauly: Replacing the attendance officers are seven attendance liaisons. I asked Kamras about how those roles will differ.

Kamras: “You can almost think of it more akin to social work. In fact, we're hoping that folks with those kinds of skills can be in those roles and we think many of the individuals in the attendance officer role would be a good fit.”

Pauly: So, it’s a reorganization in a way. Kamras did say the salary of these new roles will be a little more, but he couldn’t say by how much. And Roberto, the way Kamras and Stoney want to pay for this is controversial, right?

Roldan: Yeah. Stoney’s proposing to increase property taxes by 7.5 percent. That’s about $200 more in taxes for someone whose home is valued at $218,000, which is the median value. Many residents are already paying more, after their property assessments went up last year.

Pauly: About how much more are we talking about?

Roldan: Residential property values rose 8.3 percent, which was the largest increase since the 2008 recession. But in some neighborhoods, it was even higher. For example, in the Manchester neighborhood, property values rose by 19 percent.

Pauly: But at the same time, Richmond hasn’t had a property tax hike in a long time, right?

Roldan: Yep, that’s right. There hasn't been a property tax increase in over three decades,  since the late 80s. But a majority of council members say they aren’t supporting the increase.

Pauly: So if they don’t want to approve the budget as is, with the property tax hike, what will they have to do then?

Roldan: Well the $758 million budget is built on the property tax increase. So if Richmond City Council doesn’t want to approve it, they are going to have to go through this huge budget and find $21 million worth of cuts. That’s the expected revenue the city would bring in from the property tax. And getting nine people to agree on what to cut out won’t be easy.

Pauly: So what’s next?

Roldan: City Council will be holding budget deliberations every Monday until they can agree on a balanced budget. They have until the end of May to do that. The new budget will go into effect on July first.

Pauly: Thanks Roberto!

Roldan: Thanks Megan.

Pauly: Roberto Roldan is WCVE’s city reporter. I’m Megan Pauly, education reporter. You’re listening to WCVE News.

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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