Saturday, January 12, 2008

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

This maven has had enough of Doug Wilder’s war on the children of this city. According to the TD this morning, ( His Excellency is freezing 1.4 million dollars of school maintenance money because . . . well, because he feels like it. Mr. Wilder also threatens to reduce Richmond Public Schools' maintenance budget by 1.5 million for the next school year. I say enough is enough.

We, the citizens of Richmond, have watched this man war on RPS and on the School Board for his entire term as mayor. It is clear that Mr. Wilder is interested only in expanding his power. He cares nothing for Richmond’s children. If their schools need repairs, Doug replies “screw ‘em.” If the tiles are crumbling, if the basements are wet, if the ventilation is bad so the kids can’t get fresh air, if our school buildings are not accessible to disabled children, the answer is the same, “screw ‘em.” Yet, we the parents and grandparents of Richmond sit back and do nothing.

And let’s face it. The mayor is not the only public official in Richmond who says “screw ‘em” to our children. Our beloved City Council has re-imposed its funding freeze on RPS for at least another year. Fellow citizens, face the realities, a funding freeze is really a funding cut because costs are constantly going up. So, although other city spending goes up (all those increased assessments produced a big influx of revenue) our children continue to suffer. One of our councilpersons even has the audacity to call it “tough love.” Are our children acting so badly that we have to “tough love” them with budget cuts?

His Mayorship has convinced the City Council that RPS is over funded. He uses meaningless “cost-per-student” figures to “demonstrate” that RPS and the School Board must be wasting millions of dollars. However, cost-per-student comparisons are like comparing the proverbial apples and oranges. We in Richmond have to spend more per student on education than do our surrounding counties because we have a much higher concentration of children living in poverty than do any of the counties and therefore have to provide more services to our children.

We need to look at another comparison to see if we in Richmond are adequately funding our schools. Last year, using figures I gathered from the Internet, I put together a comparison of school spending as a percentage of a jurisdiction’s total operating budget. I found the following:

City of Richmond 26.1%
Chesterfield County 38%
Henrico County 54%
City of Norfolk 40.3%
City of Virginia Beach 48%

Clearly, Richmond is spending a far smaller percentage of its operating budget on schools than are these other jurisdictions. Not only do we spend less, we are heading in the wrong direction. The percentage of Richmond’s operating budget spent for schools is going down.

Fiscal year 2007 26.1%
Fiscal year 2008 25.03%
Fiscal year 2009 24.71%

Our mayor and our City Council are intent on starving our public schools. Who suffers? The children. And we, the parents and grandparents of Richmond say nothing.

I, for one, am tired of saying nothing. I am publicly announcing the year of our school children in 2008. I am determined to make the elections in November, both for mayor and City Council, turn on the issue of adequate funding for our schools. I am making it clear that I will not vote for or support for reelection either the mayor or any member of the City Council who refuses to provide a first class education for the people of our city. Here is my challenge:

Doug Wilder: I will not support you for reelection unless you stop your war against our children. You must support adequate funding for our public schools.

Kathy Graziano: I will not support you for reelection unless you provide adequate funding for our schools.

I invite all in our city who care about its future to join me in making this the year when we stop our public officials from depriving our school children:

Richmond Council of PTAs: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Richmond Education Association: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Communities in Schools: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Micah Initiative: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Hope in the Cities: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools;
Friends of Fourth District Schools: Join me in demanding adequate funding for our schools.

Fellow citizens and taxpayers of the City of Richmond, we have to make our voices heard. Parents and grandparents we have to let our elected representatives know that we will no longer tolerate their continuous reduction in school funding. Go to the City Council’s website (, find out who your councilperson is and write or e-mail to them your demand that they stop under funding our public schools.

Our leaders have been ignoring the needs of the children in this city for decades. Maybe their thinking is that because most of our school children are poor and black they don’t have to care about them. I have no doubt that if our public school children were predominantly white and middle class our school system would be world class.

Treasured reader, Richmond will never be a great city until we have great schools. It is that simple. Any of our elected officials who do not support our building a great school system do not deserve to be reelected. It’s really up to you. I think these politicians will continue to under fund our schools until you go to the voting machine and demand that they stop.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you moderate your comments.

My response to your post is that when and if the RPS demonstrates a modicum of accountability and return on investment for our money spent, then the money may well be restored.

I'd be hard pressed to believe that they can accurately account for every dollar in their current budget.

It's also worth noting that they decline to respond to legal FOIA requests and that their School Board does not reply to citizen emails asking why that is the case.

Scott said...

I think this was why West ran.

Lots of people, including myself, arrived at the same conclusion long ago: While downtown convention and art centers get millions in funding, the neighborhood schools have been neglected.

But it does not matter who raised this concern first or has been most politically correct. What matters is that the situation gets fixed.

Anonymous said...

A clearly stated call to action. Thank you.


an RPS teacher

RVA Foodie said...

I recommend that concerned citizens support their local PTA and/or the City Council of PTAs and get behind the Build Schools Now! inititiative. I've posted some of their updates on my blog.

Anonymous said...

Anon-1, You may have not recently been on school grounds, but if you had you'd see that the facilities are severely antiquated. Until the school building funding comes through with the City of the Future, RPS will be forced to barely maintain rather than improve the buildings.

Also, it is worth noting (and james river maven probably has the numbers closer at hand than I do) that the school system has been making radical improvements in their SOL scores. I'm not sure how you can say that RPS hasn't demonstrated a modicum of accountability when it has been subjected to several audits and budget cuts and money withholding. I would not say that the system is blameless, but to keep bringing up budget accountability without also bringing up the high level of poverty and other social issues and other challenges in the system seems unfair to me.

- a richmond parent

Anonymous said...

Your comments are very accurate. Every penny cut from the schools makes the job that much harder. RPS does not overspend, and compared to most bureaucracies, it is fairly tight. In fact, the job is much larger and much harder than anyone is admitting. The audit which showed $20 million in savings was defective in a number of details -- not showing too few alleged savings, but showing too many. The city of Richmond has been unable to issue proper capital bonds for the last 25 years because of the General Assembly, and the level of supervision, counseling, and remediation needed in middle and high schools is extremely high. Drop-out rates reflect unemployment rates in the center city of 22-60%. The mayor needs to address disparities in City funding by the state, including legal action, and support constructive increases in school funding. That is honestly what is needed.