Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Open Letter to Doug and Jackie and Paul and Bill and . . .

I hear a lot of talk about the mayoral election this fall. The announced candidates Paul Goldman and Jackie Jackson tell us how bad things are and try to convince us they each are the one we should trust to fix them. The unannounced candidates Bill Pantele and Bruce Tyler also tell us how bad things are going under our beloved Doug Wilder, and I assume that as soon as they become candidates they will try to convince us that each is the only one that can fix things. The other unannounced candidate, Mayor Wilder, is hoping that he will run for reelection against at least four or five opponents who will split up the anti-Doug vote so that winning four more years will be a snap.

These candidates talk about regionalism and economic growth and master plans and efficiency in government and all those other standard issues that they think the citizens of Richmond are interested in. However, none of them will talk about the key issue that threatens the future of our city. Nobody wants to discuss bad news, especially when they can’t think of a solution. So, for all you once and future candidates. . .

Dear Candidate:

The City of Richmond, Commonwealth of Virginia, is suffering from a serious, perhaps fatal, illness. The symptoms of the disease are apparent from looking at the demographics of our neighborhoods. We have tons of elders who have raised their children in Richmond, have paid off their mortgages, have lived in the same houses for thirty or more years and will continue to live in those houses until they are too feeble to take care of themselves. We also have lots of young couples living in their first homes and enjoying the amenities of our fair city who are either childless or have children younger than school age. Our city also has a large group of people who live at or just above the poverty level and are struggling to feed and clothe their children and pay the rent. What Richmond does not have is a significant middle class. Our former middle class now lives in Chesterfield or Henrico or Hanover or places beyond.

The Richmond “middle class hemorrhaging disease” starts affecting couples when their oldest child turns four years old. They realize that they must start thinking about their child’s education. Being convinced that their precious young ones cannot get a quality education in their neighborhood public school, these middle class parents do one of four things: 1- If they can afford it, they enroll their child in private school; 2- If they can afford it, they choose to home-school their child; 3- If they know the rules of the game, they use Richmond Public Schools’ open enrollment policy to put their kid into one of Richmond’s elite public schools; or 4- They move out of the city. Based on the number of school-age kids I see running around my neighborhood, I’m convinced that option 4 is the most popular one. Our middle class is bleeding to the suburbs. The only parents who enroll their children in most of Richmond’s public schools are those who cannot afford the other options.

The numbers are clear. In the school year 1999-2000, twenty seven thousand children were enrolled in Richmond Public Schools. Every year since then enrollment has gone down. For the current school year, enrollment is about twenty two thousand five hundred students and that number is expected to go down next year. We’re talking about a reduction of over sixteen percent in only eight years. I am sure that there has not been a huge drop in the birth rate of city residents. I can only conclude that families with children are leaving Richmond if they can.

You also need to look at some other numbers. For the most recent years for which Richmond Public Schools’ website gives statistics, eighty eight per cent of the children enrolled are classified as “black” and seven percent are classified as “white.” (I apologize for talking about race. I know that in Richmond “polite” people don’t talk about such things.) Moreover, of our school population more than seventy percent are receiving subsidized lunches at school. If this were the 1960s, I might be tempted to describe Richmond Public Schools as racially and economically segregated. However, this is the twenty first century, so we don’t use such nasty words as segregation.

So, candidate, if you are elected, what do you intend to do to stop the bleeding? I know that under the laws of the Commonwealth it is the School Board, not the mayor, that is responsible for running the public schools. So, you might tell me that the quality and perceived quality of our schools is not an issue you need to be concerned with. However, we are not electing you merely to be chief executive officer of our city government. We are electing you to be our top community leader. And as leader of our community you cannot ignore the plight of our children. You cannot ignore the steady exodus of our middle class. You need to work with the Superintendent of Schools and the School Board and the City Council and civic, religious and business leaders to make Richmond Public Schools a world-class school system.

Providing great schools for our children is not just a matter of economic and racial justice. It is vital to the overall health of the city. A city with a population composed of just the old and the young, with nobody in between, is not healthy. A city population of just the affluent and the poor, with no middle class, is likewise unhealthy. When the middle class leaves a city it takes with it a significant part of the tax base.

If we want to have a city that is vibrant and safe and a wonderful place to live, we must invest in our public schools. How can we attract people to live in Richmond if we do not have great schools? How do we attract businesses to Richmond? Do we tell them this is a great place to work but advise them that their employees should live in the counties because our schools just aren’t that good?

Our current mayor and many members of our City Council believe that the best way to improve our schools is to restrict the amount of money that the city pays for schools. They apparently think that if the School Board and the school administration have to live on reduced rations the result will be a slimmer, more efficient school system. I don’t see them concerned with the quality of the education we provide our children. They fail to see that money that goes to our public schools is not money spent but an investment in our children’s future. Our children cannot afford a continuance of this “starve them to help them” attitude.

So, Madam or Mister Candidate, if we elect you as our next mayor, what will you do to keep and win back some of our exiled middle class? What will you do to guarantee that all the children in Richmond receive a world-class education? Tell me how you intend to turn Richmond Public Schools into a great school system. Without great schools, Richmond can never be a great city.



Wendy said...

well said, or asked, rather

RVA Foodie said...

I'm trying to get a discussion going on my blog about this and other topics that are highlighted in this week's Style. You are invited, of course. I also included a link to your letter.

Jackson for Mayor said...

First, thank you so muh for the insightful question and allowing me to respond, as a candidate for Mayor.

Secondly, I believe that the values instilled by my grandparents, that a good education was vital to improving my community and myself, along with my six years as a city leader provide me with the experience to lead our government. As a member of the City Council, I chaired the education committee. During my tenure on the school board, I brought my business experience to school management issues by making sure the school superintendent had a performance based contract that tied her compensation to results.

I also pushed for the implementation of living wages for school employees; the hiring of 294 new teachers city-wide (17 for the 8th district); improvements of three school facilities in the 8th district; and increased resources to support a vocational education program.

This is why accountability for the Richmond Public Schools will be the #1 PRIORITY for my administration. I agree that the biggest problem facing our city is the lack of resources and opportunities for our youth. There needs to be attention paid to providing positive and success-building opportunities for our students.

As a community, we must face the harsh reality that many our schools are failing our students, and that it is going to take extraordinary measures, out-of-the-box solutions, to ensure that every student has a world-class education. We need to give our most at-risk children the tools to succeed so that they will be confident in knowing that there is a hopeful future in store for them. RPS must also have an expectation of excellence that will foster improvement from the school board to the classroom. It is time for us to think beyond the traditional means of educating our youth and bring in the talent that is needed to turn around the school system.

As Mayor, I will hold my administration, the City Council, and the School Board accountable for providing the leadership needed to increase resources, renovate outdated schools, recruit talented administrators, teachers, and staff, and protect our most valuable asset, our children.

As Mayor, I will make a commitment to Governor Kaine's pre-K initiative. In today's society, children are learning more at record paces. It is important that they are exposed to a quality education from day one. This means making sure that when children enter kindergarten they are able to function on an equal playing field by knowing their ABC's, 123's, and reading basic words. I believe that shaping our children for educational success starts when they enter the Richmond Public Schools!

I will also ensure that the resources are available so that those children who enter pre-K will finish the 12th grade. Increasing our graduation rates needs to be a focus, if we increase our graduation rates it will give students a since of accomplishment and hopefully encourage them to strive for excellence as adults. Also, with increasing globalization I will make bi-lingual education an emphasis to give our children a competitive advantage beyond graduation.

When running for school board, I recognized that we needed to bring our schools up-to-date with 21st century standards. As Mayor, I will allocate funding to improving the infrastructure of all schools by the end of my first term. We need make sure that all schools comply with the American Disabilities Act, and that they are ADA accessable. All of our students deserve to be brought up in learning environments that are safe, reliable, and have all the technological advances of the new millennium.

Excellence in the classroom is just one part of the solution there are still other areas of improvement. As Mayor, I will put more resources in our Parks & Recreation departments, after-school programs, and vocational education programs. I will encourage local business and corporation to take a vested interest in the youth of our community. This is not to say that I don't commend those local businesses that already take an active role in the education of our youth, but believe that more can be done! While serving on City Council, I proposed a bill to allow city employees travel time to become a mentor in a Richmond Public School. Every student of RPS should have a mentor or the ability to be exposed to opportunities outside of their everyday life experience.

I believe that I have a vision that will take our schools to next-level and bring about change for our students. However, it will not come to fruition without community support. This starts by collaborating with school administrators, teachers, parents and most importantly students to cultivate schools that are "models of excellence" in public education throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. It also entails working on one accord with the School Board and City Council to make sure that resources are allocated responsibly.

Finally, I am running to bring a new voice, a new choice of next generation leadership to City Hall.

---Jackie Jackson, Candidate for Mayor of Richmond

Anonymous said...

Can we get Ms Jackson to state publicly, and submit backing documentation on her votes on the $42MM Golden Retirement Program?

This year's $6MM allocation can be seen on page 65 of the School Board's approved budget.