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Three New Richmond Schools Built Through Meal Tax Increase

Mayor Levar Stoney handed principals the keys for the three new RPS schools.
Mayor Levar Stoney handed principals the keys for the three new RPS schools. (Photo: Alan Rodriguez Espinoza/VPM News)

Richmond City officials unveiled Cardinal Elementary this Thursday, one of three new school buildings opening their doors to students for the 2020-2021 school year. It will replace the old Greene Elementary in Southside.

Also in Southside, River City Middle School will take the place of Elkhardt-Thompson Middle. Henry L. Marsh Elementary School will replace George Mason Elementary in Church Hill.

After a tour of Cardinal Elementary today, Mayor Levar Stoney handed the keys for the three new schools to their principals, and to School Board member Linda Owen and Superintendent Jason Kamras.

According to a press release, Cardinal Elementary cost $42 million, Henry Marsh cost $40 million and River City cost $64 million. New revenues generated by the meals tax increase raised the borrowing capacity of the city, which Stoney said was used to fund school construction. 

“Two pennies. One-point-five percent. Less than two pennies per dollar,” Stoney said, holding two literal pennies in his hands. “It sounds miniscule, but it built all of this. All of this behind me. And that’s thanks to the entire Richmond community.” 

A large majority of students zoned for Cardinal Elementary are native Spanish speakers. Laura Yojana Escotocanaca, who came to the United States from Honduras, says the new school will make a big difference for her son, Jonathan.

“This is very important for us parents, and for our children. The new school makes me and my son feel motivated,” Escotocanaca said.

Juvenal Abrego-Meneses, the principal for Cardinal Elementary, was appointed by the school board just last year. Latino men make up less than one percent of staff and principals at RPS. Councilman Mike Jones says having a new Latino principal is crucial for the new school.

“For people to see themselves in leadership, I think that’s huge,” Jones said. Two of the new schools were built in his district, although he says racist sentiments toward Latino residents drove a backlash against construction. He called for an end to xenophobia during his remarks. 

Richmond broke ground on the three new schools in December of 2018, and began construction in the summer of 2019. While RPS is currently holding all classes virtually, the three new schools allow for a total capacity of 3,250 students.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This article stated "Over 90 percent of students zoned for Cardinal Elementary are native Spanish speakers." VPM could not confirm this figure, so has updated the article after reviewing Department of Education data.

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