RPS School Maintenance: A Story of Despair (and Resurrection?)

Next year (FY17) RPS admin is requesting $39 million for school maintenance, while the Mayor is offering $5 million. Projected in the next five-years, this gap will grow to $81 million. How did we get here? 

The main source of maintenance funding for Richmond schools is through the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP funds provided must be used on infrastructure with a life-span of more than 20-years. Money for maintenance items under 20-years (e.g. broken sink) come from the general operating funds for schools, which I’ve estimated at $2 million annually based on current and past year’s allocation. 

At what level should Richmond be investing? 

According to industry research and contacting school facilities directors at Chesterfield County and Henrico County, maintenance dollars should be planned in a range from $1.68 per square foot for new buildings, to $4.02 per square foot for older buildings. For this analysis I selected $3.40 per square foot as it is Chesterfield’s number budget projections, and the fact that Richmond’s system is a majority of older buildings. 

Comparing Richmond’s level of investment to the industry standard for our size, between 2008 and 2018 we’ve built a $112 million deficit in facility maintenance. If you’ve been in RPS schools you know they need investment, but this gap is startling. 

This starvation of basic maintenance funds is why our facilities are failing at a daily rate and the reason behind a large $39 million request for FY17. The Mayor’s offer of $5 million is a band-aid on a gushing wound.

The Mayor’s proposed CIP only widens this gap and take us back into deficit. Following the proposed CIP, in 2021 we’ll be $65 million dollars behind on school facility maintenance when compared with industry standards. The Mayor is proposing funding at a paltry $0.22 to $0.36 per square foot, far below RPS proposed ($2.45 to $3.37) or the industry average ($3.40). 

How do we pay for the huge school maintenance deficit? 

For now, the CIP is where this all gets funded. Next year’s (FY17) proposed CIP will spend $230 million on city-wide infrastructure. The problem for schools is that much of the pie has already been served. 

$161 million of non-general funds are off limits as these projects are referred to as “enterprise funds” aka they pay for themselves. Gas, stormwater, and utility fees are fed directly back to pay for system upgrades. Fees are adjusted to pay for costs, thus these projects are generally self-sustaining.

Within the general funds ($68 million for FY17), some of these cannot be moved as they are tied to regional efforts (800 MHz Radio System) or state and federal grants. In the FY17 project list below, I’ve identified all of these “locked” projects.

With $5 million proposed for school maintenance and $25.9 million “locked,” this leaves $37.7 million in “open” projects and funds for next year. Thoughts on possible alternatives: 

Option 1: Schools First

Allocate $34 million towards school maintenance and get RPS fully caught up. RPS school maintenance would receive the full $39 million requested. This would leave approximately $4 million to be allocated among other projects. 

Option 2: Schools and New Projects

Redirect $23.9 million from any new FY17 projects and keep originally planned levels for projects 35 and 64 to provide a total of $28.9 million for school maintenance. This would provide a large-step towards clearing a back-log of projects and would leave $13.8 million to be allocated among other projects.

Option 3: Schools, New Projects, and Save  

Follow Option 2 by combining school maintenance with redirected funds from proposed new projects and originally planned levels and save the $13.8 million for future years. It’s going to be hard not to spend money (I get it, YOLO), but our funding future isn’t bright. 

The City is about to max out their credit card aka CIP. Davenport and Company provided an analysis of the debt capacity (which funds the CIP) and said that Richmond can only take out an additional $50 million through 2021. 

Worse news, the credit limit may be even lower. Councilman Agelasto raised a question at the Joint City Council-School Board meeting about whether the proposed $26 million increase for FY17 spending (look at the final numbers for last year's CIP) would already bite into this $50 million limit. I checked with him last week, and he has not received an answer. 

Spending the full $68 million in FY17 is a major danger because it would severely limit our capacity to fund major projects in the next 5 years. On the bottom of page 12 you will see how funding drastically decreases in out years FY 18 through 21. This leaves us with the ability to only fund $19 to $11 million in future years. 

I’m super jazzed about one of these options, how can I make it happen? 

1. Contact your City Councilperson this week! Amendments to the Mayor’s proposed budget and CIP are due Monday, April 11th at 5pm. 

2. Show up to the Support Our Schools rally at 5pm on April 11th at City Hall and stay to speak out on what you think should be a priority in the budget. The public hearing on the CIP (ORD2016-058) begins April 11th at 6pm. 

Better yet, organize fellow members of your community or school and contact the City Clerk to sign up as a group. You’ll get 5 minutes to share instead of 3 minutes, and I’ve heard from multiple elected officials that they appreciate (and give greater weight) when they hear from a unified voice. 

3. Become educated about the topic and be ready to provide solutions, not just criticisms. I’ll do my part to provide information on the school facilities side. RVANews’ Teresa Cole has a terrific Education FAQ series that is a must read, and be sure to join the Support Our Schools Facebook page or follow #SupportRPS #rvacouncil #rvaschools for the latest updates on Twitter. 

4. If you’re ready to jump in, but not sure where to start, send me an email! Richmond Forward is forming teams around funding and policy, parent engagement, and student expression. Lot’s of great people are becoming connected along these efforts and great this budget season is only the start. 

Hope to see you at City Hall on the 11th at 5pm! 

I’ve started Richmond Forward under the model of servant leadership and building up leaders within our community, so I'm intentional about making sure that I'm not the face of this movement. But, if it helps you feel more comfortable with becoming involved by knowing something about me, you can learn more in this RVANews interview by Val Catrow.