Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Richmond School Board: Let the City Council and the People Know What You Need

According to Zach Reid’s article in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch1, the Richmond School Board is seeking the help of the citizens in setting its priorities in formulating the budget for operating Richmond Public Schools (RPS) for the fiscal year 2014-15. The board will seek input using surveys both in writing and on the web. The input received will be “vetted” at a special budget meeting on November 23.

This maven congratulates the board on this approach. In providing services, it is always wise for an enterprise to seek the views both of its customers (families of RPS students) and its owners (the taxpayers of Richmond). On an issue as important as the future of our children we all should cooperate by participating in the budget survey.

The TD article also states that the RPS staff has already been doing its homework and has created a list of needs of the school system and has prioritized them. This certainly will help the board when it gets into the deliberative part of formulating the budget. But, it will also help the Interim Superintendent and the board comply with a provision of state law, which has not been followed in the recent past.

Section 22.1-92 of the Code of Virginia provides:

A. It shall be the duty of each division superintendent to prepare, with the approval of the school board, and submit to the governing body or bodies appropriating funds for the school division, by [April 1] the estimate of the amount of money deemed to be needed during the next fiscal year for the support of the public schools of the school division. The estimate shall set up the amount of money deemed to be needed for each major classification prescribed by the Board of Education and such other headings or items as may be necessary.

(The classifications prescribed by the state Board of Education are (i) instruction, (ii) administration, attendance and health, (iii) pupil transportation, (iv) operation and maintenance, (v) school food services and other noninstructional operations, (vi) facilities, (vii) debt and fund transfers, (viii) technology, and (ix) contingency reserves. (Virginia Code section 22.1-115)). This mandate, which is not inconsistent with any provision of the Richmond city charter, allows both the governing body (the City Council) and the citizens to know at the beginning of budget preparation what the superintendent and board estimate they need to run the school system. The only thing in the state statute that is problematic is the deadline for submission of the statement. In light of the budget schedule set out in the Richmond city charter, it would make more sense for the superintendent to submit the estimate to the City Council no later than the middle of January.

Therefore, I recommend that the Richmond School Board direct the Interim Superintendent to begin working on the mandated estimate, so that it will be ready to be submitted to the City Council by January 15, 2014.


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