Friday, March 23, 2012

Mayor Jones and the School Board (Part 2)

Just over four years ago I posted an item that angered many
of Richmond politicians. I refer you to “Throwing Down the Gauntlet”
In that blog entry I challenged the then-mayor, Doug Wilder, and the Richmond City Council (including my own representative Kathy Graziano) to provide adequate funding for Richmond Public Schools (RPS). Back in 2008, the maven still had a fire in my belly, so I used some pretty fiery language. For example:

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?

I then posted some statistics that I am sure that Richmond politicians found unsettling. I listed the percentage of the annual outlays that various jurisdictions were devoting to public education. This is what I reported:

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

I then made it clear that not only was Richmond spending a smaller percentage of its operating budget on its schools then other jurisdictions but also that the money for schools was a shrinking part of our budget. This is what I reported:

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

Trusted reader, just in case you think things may have changed since 2008 when I wrote that piece, take a look at the current figures. For fiscal year 2012, the City of Richmond is now providing only 21.2% of its annual budget to Richmond Public Schools.

Let me repeat this to make it clear. In fiscal year 2007 the City of Richmond dedicated 26.15% of its annual budget to RPS (which was significantly less than other jurisdictions). In fiscal year 2012 the City of Richmond is dedicating only 21.2% of its annual budget to RPS. And from what I read in our great metropolitan daily, Mayor Jones has submitted his budget request to City Council for 2013 without requesting any additional funds for RPS.

So, loyal reader, the next time the mayor or your city council member tells you that they support the children of Richmond and want to provide them with a world-class education, you tell them to put the city’s checkbook where their mouths are.

As I mentioned yesterday, two weeks ago our mayor appointed a task force to find ways to reduce spending in RPS. This followed the school board’s action in submitting a budget that needed an additional $24 million to permit the level of expenditure that the board was recommending. According to the article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the mayor made it clear “[t]hat the city doesn’t have an additional $24 million. I can assure you we’re not going to raise taxes for an additional $24 million.”

It is unfortunate that Mayor Jones portrayed adequate funding for RPS public schools as an issue that can only be solved by raising $24 million in additional taxes. Mayor Jones knows that the RPS share of the city pie did not shrink from 26 to 21 percent over the last five years because taxes were being cut. He knows that this shrinkage arose over the years because he and his predecessor as mayor and the members of the city council made the conscious decision year after year that other programs in the city had a higher priority than the education of our children. Providing adequate funding for RPS does not require tax increases. Rather it requires the city council to make some difficult decisions and to move funding from other programs back to RPS. Richmond ought to spend at least a quarter of its annual budget on our schools.

Reader, the city’s Biennial Fiscal Plan for 2012-2013 has the title “Moving Towards a Tier One City.” I am not sure exactly what a tier one city is, but I assume it means something like a great city. As I said yesterday, the City of Richmond will never be a great city until it has great schools. I add today that the City of Richmond will never be a great city if it continues to spend only 21% of its budget on its public schools.


Unknown said...


You fail to miss the point.

While your numbers as a percentage of the city budget I'm not going to dispute - ask and answer this question: Is RPS the outfit you want in charge of an increasing slice of the City pie? If forced to choose at the behest of the court - and let's just say for discussion it gets to the court - are you going to fund the court ordered back pay to the police, give $24MM to the schools, raise taxes, or cut other basic services like water, sewer, and trash?

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