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In New Budget, Kamras Proposes Teacher Raise, Leaves Out New Schools

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras during a school board meeting in 2019. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras presented his proposed budget to the school board Tuesday. The proposed budget places an emphasis on raising RPS staff pay, covering pandemic expenses and investing in social and emotional support services.

Kamras noted that the city will unlikely be able to fund the construction of new buildings — including the reconstruction of George Wythe High School — until 2024. He said this is because the city has no more debt capacity, having already borrowed about $150 million to build three new schools that opened last year.

“We’ve maxed out that credit card,” Kamras said. 

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney promised five new school buildings in 2018, when he raised the meals tax to expand the city’s ability to borrow more money and fund new construction projects.

For Kamras’s budget proposal, Richmond schools anticipate about $5 million from the city government and about $4 million from the state in new spending to be used during the 2021-2022 school year. Kamras says $5.6 million of that should go to providing teachers and staff with a 2% raise. 

This would be in addition to the 2% bonus currently proposed in the governor’s budget, and also in addition to a previous 2% raise staff received from the district last year. Kamras also proposes using $1 million to cover an anticipated rise in healthcare costs for RPS employees so they don’t face increased insurance premiums.

RPS also received just over $54 million in emergency aid from the federal government as part of the new stimulus package that was passed by Congress in December. Those funds are available to RPS through the summer of 2023. 

Kamras is proposing using $16 million of that now to address air quality in schools and other COVID-related expenses by this summer, such as sanitizing materials and PPE. This also includes allocating $2.5 million to fund the city’s emergency childcare sites. As of now, these are paid by the city, though Stoney has said the city is quickly running out of funds for that service.

After that, he recommends using the remainder of the $54 million to provide and maintain academic and social-emotional support services through the 2022-2023 school year.

More specifically, these support services include: expanded partnerships with local mental organizations; additional nurses, counselors and psychologists; improved internet infrastructure; and enhanced ESL, special education and reading support. 

“Also, eight additional ESL teachers,” Kamras added, and “more supports for our newcomer academy, and our Con Ganas program, specifically designed to address our English Learner graduation rate, which we know is unacceptably low.”

Kamras added the emergency funds should be used to hire 10 new full-time custodians over the next two and a half years.

The emergency aid would also fund a proposed system-wide, extended year calendar. This modified school year would begin in person in August and end in June. It would include four two-week breaks for most students in October, January, March and July. About 5,000 “high-need students” would receive additional instruction during these breaks, or intersessions, adding up to 40 extra school days.

All federal, state, and local holidays would continue to be observed, as would winter and spring break. And the entire month of July would be off, except for students enrolled in the two weeks of extra classes over the July intersession.

“The intersessions would be optional for teachers. They would not have to work them. But, of course, we would recruit teachers from within RPS to work those intersessions, for additional compensation, of course,” Kamras said. He emphasized that this proposal is still up to the school board to consider. It would require $8 million to fund.

The superintendent’s presentation of the budget to the School Board is only the first of several steps. The budget proposal is still subject to change, as it must be approved by the Board, Mayor and City Council before it’s adopted in June.

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