Wow, this is was a historic event! What struck was Dick Harmon, City Council meeting announcer for 28-years, saying that he'd never seen anything like this before and RT-D's Ned Oliver said it was most people he'd even seen come out. 76 people spoke for 3-hours total about the same message…greater support (i.e. funding) for Richmond schools!
If you missed it, check out Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond Magazine, Richmond Free Press, NBC12, CBS6, RVANews, and Support Our Schools for coverage. Also, take a minute to read this piece by Chris Bolling of Open High on what he learned from the night. Chris’ piece reminded me of Mysia Perry’s editorial (also an Open High student) in 2014 about protesting RPS facility conditions. This may be my favorite Style back page ever! I hold her writing dear to my heart.
How did this impact the HUGE GAP between the Mayor and School Board's budget?
That night, not much. A public hearing (what happened Monday) is required for the Mayor’s proposed budget and CIP. For the Mayor’s proposal to be adopted on Monday, City Council would have had to approve the proposed budget and CIP with no amendments, and there ALWAYS are amendments.
City Council amendments were due at 5pm on Monday and will not be revealed to the public until April 18th. This is why it's crucial to contact City Council the week before about their intentions on budget amendments. Thanks to the Richmond Forward Policy & FUNding team, we were able to contact about half of them with analysis on possible amendments.
Long-term, Monday night could have a MAJOR impact and here's why...
Major takeaway #1: Political message
City Council and the Mayor now know that public pressure will be high to increase school funding. A mini-preview of possible future events occurred with the unanimous (8-0) passage of ORD2016-092. A few weeks ago this amendment received a recommendation of denial from its committee chaired by Council members Graziano and Robertson. Having it placed on Monday night's consent agenda meant that at least five City Council members supported the bill to override a committee's recommendation. Once this got to the council floor, where members met a packed room of people, you saw how any of those opposed to the bill wanted to save face and voted for approval.
Coordinating quality policy and funding analysis (before meetings) with the backing of community support showing at City Council public hearings is a highly effective model. This is outside-in reforms happen.
Major takeaway #2: Teachers speaking out
When the Facilities Task Force started in spring 2014, we knew we needed to hear teacher's voices, but received a lengthy lecture about delicate steps to take due to a history of RPS administration of retribution towards teachers for speaking out. This history is true and I've heard stories from Richmond teachers to back it up. Although many of these practices have directly changed with Dr. Bedden's administration, perception still exists and I've heard chatter that certain left-over principals still use the despicable tactic of fear.
But on Monday night, the direct opposite occurred. Teachers throughout the City were passionately speaking about their daily plight. What Keri Treadway, Chris Lombardi, Diane Marshall, and Jen Ramachandran have started is simply amazing. Please read their Style Weekly editorial and join the Support Our Schools Facebook page. Whether you agree or not with their message, empowering community voices is what we need more of in Richmond!
Major takeaway #3: Parent, student, and community-network growing
The other repeated message I've received from working on facilities issues and community organizing is the lack of engaged PTAs. Out of 45 operating schools, I've heard only a handful have any capacity. What we saw on Monday night could lay the groundwork for a much needed school-based community network building.
To enhance this network, it will be crucial to take international steps to develop a contacts list of community-schools interests. A great organization we should help build-up is the Micah Initiative. Their mission:
"To caring people in the Richmond area, the Micah Initiative is a partnership of faith communities with elementary Richmond Public Schools that encourages mentoring, tutoring, and volunteering through its vibrant network of more than 130 faith communities and 23 schools, so that every child believes, “I’m valuable.”
Contact their amazing leader, Qasarah Spencer, if you interested in getting involved with your neighborhood school. Richmond Forward is working with them and Peter Paul Development Center to host a parents night "Speak Out!" on April 21st from 6:30pm-7:30pm at the Peter Paul Development Center (1708 N. 22nd Street).
What happens next?
City Council submitted their budget and CIP amendments on April 11th. City staff vetting these requests for budget impact, legality, and combining like requests to present back to City Council. These amendments becomes public knowledge on April 18th at Noon. RT-D's Ned Oliver gave us a preview of what's coming with his report on City Council last week.
April 25th is the next City Council meeting. Outside of the regular citizen input at the meeting's beginning, there will not be any opening for public comment. This isn't to say that the meeting is not important, as the opportunity may arise to speak if school-related papers on listed on consent agenda. Also, maintaining a presence on supporting increased education funding will be key.
Support Our Schools is organizing through this event page and planning a march on City Hall from MLK Middle School at 5pm. Continued public pressure will only help policies and funding amendments supporting schools to move forward (see Major Takeaway #1 above).
On Monday (5/9) at 6pm in City Hall, City Council will hold a public hearing (everyone gets to speak) on their proposed budget amendments. I'm calling this event "BIG MONDAY 2: THE FORCE RETURNS!" Mark your calendars folks, this is going to be a big one. If City Council doesn't vote that night, we got into special meeting mode where the final vote could occur on Friday (5/13) or Monday (5/16).
Interested in stocking up your calendar with important budget dates, check out the City budget schedule and load up iCal today!
Richmond Forward's next steps (i.e. where we need your help!)
1. For us to adopt and fund the best RPS facilities plan, we need people to get informed. Teresa Cole from RVANews is doing heavy lifting by writing a terrific Education FAQs series. Read and share her latest articles FAQ#004.1 and FAQ#004.2 on facilities funding.
2. Providing analysis, communication, and advocacy around amendments released on April 18th is going to be key. Our Policy and FUNding action team will meet within the next few weeks to talk specifics. If you want in on this data madness email me today!