Richmond, VA Schools Looking Toward Budget Cuts

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Richmond, Virginia Mayor Dwight C. Jones has released the 2017 budget plan for the city, but it does not allow for the funding previously requested by the Richmond Public Schools. The district’s officials are suggesting a reduction in bus service and the closure of six schools, writes Ned Oliver of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In the fiscal year that begins in July, the district had asked for an $18 million increase in funding, but Jones’ proposal was to keep the same funding for the district at the same level it has received for the current fiscal year.

Ralph Westbay, the assistant superintendent for financial services for the district, said at a recent School Board meeting that cuts would have to be made to continue the academic improvement plan it has in place and to give longtime teachers a salary increase — something that hasn’t occurred since the beginning of the recession.

According to Westbay, district officials met throughout the weekend to find options for potential cuts in the education budget. They decided on $12.6 million in possible modifications.

The district could save $3 million by establishing a hub transportation method that would minimize the number of stops each school bus makes. Another $3 million could be cut by closing six schools which were not specified. The suggestion did include one high school, four elementary schools, and two specialized schools that could be incorporated into other locations.

Additionally, $2 million could be saved by increasing class sizes in secondary schools, closing two district offices, demolishing two uninhabited schools, contracting out janitorial services, and eliminating a variety of other initiatives.

Jones said during his presentation of the new budget that the district had received an increase of $11.2 million for the current year’s budget, and just maintaining that amount will mean that various other city departments will have to experience cuts.

School Board Chairman Jeffrey M. Bourne said the district still needs to find a way to cut an additional $5.8 million from the budget, meaning the schools will need to make some “really tragic choices.”

The requested $18 million, said WTVR-TV’s Vernon Freeman, Jr. and Melissa Hipolit, was earmarked for refurbishing aging school buildings and paying for safety and health issues.

The budget does include increases in funding for public safety departments to correct minimum staffing requirements and it pays for health care premium hikes for city employees.

“This fiscal plan reflects the constraints of limited resources,” Jones in a news release. “While we have charted a course to generate revenues to meet existing operations, additional revenue must be generated to meet all of our needs.”

Sandra Jones of WTVR-TV reports that the mayor has proposed a multi-year school investment and plan to search for additional funding for the district. The idea is to gain funds from new economic growth in the city.

Mayor Jones said that residential and commercial expansion is crucial to vital new funding for RPS. One such project, Jones explained, is revenue from increasing real estate appraisals along the Broad Street corridor that will take place because of the Bus Rapid Transit project.