The push is on for funding a facilities plan approved by the Richmond School Board last week.
The architect of the facilities measure that Richmond voters overwhelmingly passed in November is forming a committee to find money in the city’s budget to pay for a plan to modernize Richmond’s decrepit school facilities, while members of the School Board and NAACP rallied Thursday to urge city leaders to fund the plan.
Paul Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist, has formed the Referendum Committee Finance Group and hopes to have committee members announced by early next week.
The former senior adviser for Govs. L. Douglas Wilder and Mark Warner created the measure on the back of last month’s ballot that called on the city — specifically Mayor Levar Stoney — to present a fully funded facilities plan to the City Council. The referendum passed with about 85 percent of the vote, a fact some city officials have since used as a rallying cry to take action on school facilities.
“We asked the public. The public said show us a plan,” said Goldman, who also advised Joe Morrissey in his 2016 campaign for mayor. “But first there’s a process.”
The Richmond School Board last week approved a $224 million five-year plan to build five new schools and renovate two others. The board did not take action on a plan that would modernize all of the division’s 44 schools, something called for by the ballot measure.
The measure seeks a change to the city charter to require the mayor to present a facilities plan to the City Council that wouldn’t raise taxes, or say it can’t be done. Stoney opposed the measure, which is subject to General Assembly approval.
The target date for the committee’s recommendations will be early next year, but Goldman said that timetable is flexible depending on the action taken by elected officials who have the power to fund a plan. He said Wednesday that the committee would look to find $39 million per year that could be used for school facilities upgrades — with the School Board’s plan as the guide.
Funding for the board’s facilities plan remains unclear.
Members of the School Board and City Council met Monday to start discussions on funding the plan, but figures presented to the two groups, as well as the mayor, show a $158 million gap between the city’s five-year debt capacity — $66 million — and the School Board’s $224 million plan.
“We have a plan on the table and what we also have is the city made a statement in November: We want to make change,” Kenya Gibson, who represents the 3rd District on the School Board, said at the joint meeting Monday. “We’ve had plans again and again, and nothing’s happened. Now, we have to fund the plan.”
Gibson and other School Board members rallied Thursday outside George Mason Elementary School to call for funding for the plan.
The School Board does not have tax-setting power and does not fund the division’s budget, thus preventing the body from funding the plan itself.
“We want the mayor’s office, we want City Council, the School Board, Congress and also the General Assembly to collaborate to make sure we make this happen,” said JJ Minor, the president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP. “This is a win for students. This plan is a win for the city. It is a win for parents and ultimately it is a win for all of us.”
“If we care about public education — if we really care — we all need to work together to collaborate.”
The plan passed last week with a 5-3 vote. All five School Board members who voted for the plan were at the news conference.
“It is time to take a stand for our children,” said Cheryl Burke, the interim 7th District representative. “It’s unacceptable.”
The Education Compact, a joint City Council and School Board effort that the mayor has tasked with creating a funding plan, is set to meet again next month.
At Thursday’s rally, speakers said the NAACP plans to hold more rallies, town hall meetings and news conference to urge the funding of the five-year plan.