My one fan out there knows that almost as long as I have been a maven I have been complaining that the City of Richmond doesn’t provide enough money for Richmond Public Schools. Rather than listing all the posts in which I have made that argument I will just refer you to the last one. 1 Guess what? It is budget season again in River City and our Mayor has cut the school board’s proposed budget by about $3.8 million. So here we are in 2014 and AGAIN the maven has to argue for more money for our children.
I have pointed out before that as a percentage of its general fund expenditures Richmond spends less on its public schools than almost any other jurisdiction in Virginia. So, to save time, I won’t say that now. I have also talked about the fact that the percentage of general fund expenditures going to Richmond Public Schools is constantly going down. This I need to talk about again. But first a little disclaimer. I find Richmond’s budget documents available on line to be confusing. In the past, when I reported to you the percentages, I relied on the pie charts contained in annual budgets. But the on-line collection is not complete so there are some years for which I don’t have pie charts. In addition, the pie charts don’t always agree with the tables contained in the budgets. Finally, because of the bi-annual nature of Richmond budgeting, there are different amounts in the documents designated as “proposed”, “amended”, “adopted” and “actual.”
Let me give you a few key numbers. For fiscal year 2009, the Mayor proposed and the City Council approved a budget that provided $161 million in general fund payments to Richmond Public Schools (RPS) out of a total general fund budget of $658.1 million. Under this budget the schools were receiving 24.47% of the total. For fiscal year 2014, the most recent year for which the council enacted a budget, the Mayor proposed and the City Council approved a budget that provided only $154.4 million to RPS out of a total general fund budget of $760.5 million. The schools’ share of total general fund expenditures has dropped to 20.2%. So how, dear reader, has this happened?
In March 2009 Mayor Jones informed City Council that, because of the economic recession, city revenues would be down considerably and that therefore the city’s payment to RPS for fiscal year 2010 would have to be reduced by 4%. The dollar reduction to RPS was about $8 million. The recession ended and city revenue increased considerably. However, neither the Mayor nor the City Council ever restored the $8 million that had been cut from RPS. As you can see from just the two years indicated in the preceding paragraph, total city general fund spending has increased by more than $100 million since fiscal year 2009 while the amount the city contributes to RPS is still more than $6 million less than it was then.
The mayor and the chair of the council’s budget committee have argued that the percentages don’t matter; that the city is committed to its public schools; that the Mayor’s proposed increase ($1 million of the $4.8 million requested by the school board) from last year is adequate. But nobody talks about the lost $8 million. If the city is really committed to public schools the annual percentage of general fund expenditures for RPS should stay pretty constant. Yet, if the Mayor’s proposed budget is adopted by City Council, the RPS slice of the pie will be down to 20.1%. Any members of City Council who votes to approve the Mayor’s budget will be hard-pressed in the future to claim they really care about the children of Richmond.