Budget: The Aftermath

After multiple 10+ hour days of budget work sessions, the Richmond City Council finalized their budget amendments to increase funding for school operations ($5.6M) and capital improvements ($4M). This leaves gaps of $10.6M in operations and $36M in capital improvements from the School Board request.  

The RT-D’s Ned Oliver was there for the whole process – an amazing human feat –and provided us this recap. If you want to relive all the budget greatness, check out RVANews’ The Boring Show podcast for full audio.

These amendments are NOT FINAL and need to be approved after the City Council public hearing this Friday (5/13) at 6pm! Support Our Schools is gathering at City Hall for food trucks and friendship at 4:30pm. Bring your friends and family to speak out, and hopefully we can make it to Shovels and Rope at Friday Cheers! I really enjoy their music.

Then, get ready for the budget season finale on Monday (5/16) at 6pm. The School Board will have to decide on $10.6 million in cuts to balance their budget. The interesting piece is that school administration has only discussed $9.7M in possible reductions (which includes closing of 6 schools), of which only $7.7M is available in proposed cuts because on April 18th the school board approved the redlined reductions on the list below.

What are the cuts we’re not even talking about yet?

Our Policy & Funding Action Team did an amazing job developing a budget position that was sent to City Council and presented at the School Board. Although this document wasn’t fully implemented, it served as a simple communication tool with actionable-solutions. Don’t worry folks, this won’t be the last time we reference this document as those running for reelection or higher office will be asked about why solutions were left on the table. I’ll provide further budget analysis below, but I wanted to give a sincere THANK YOU to all those involved and let others know that you’re only one email away from joining the Policy & Funding Action Team.

Awesome Non-Budget News!

Supporting intentional action by Richmonders pursuing change is what Richmond Forward is all about. This why you need to go - right now - to Building a Better RPS and like the page. Scott Garnett is calling our community to action by setting a goal of gathering 4,000 people over 3 days to serve their local school facilities by providing the necessary TLC (tender loving care or No Scrubs-style, your choice). The event is planned for late-July, so go and like the page to stay in the loop!

If you love discussing all things RVA education, then you need to be at the Coalition Theater on Wednesday (6/1) at 5pm for RVANews Live #007 The State of Education! The amazing Teresa Cole will moderate a panel discussion with three talented individuals (Damon Jiggetts, Jeff Bourne, and Libby Germer) and me.

More Budget News aka The Full Breakdown

Operating budget gap started at $17.6M. With the April 18th school board vote, the gap was lessened to $16.4M. Here’s the recap of Richmond Forward identified steps to close it, and City Council’s actions:

#1. Re-allocate additional revenues = $3M

City Council completed this action and re-allocated $3.6M to schools.

#2. New revenues (increased tax collection) = $6M

City Council completed this action by allocating funds ($1.7M) to hire additional staff to increase collection rates that project an additional $2M for schools. Our projections may have been off, but we’ll see what revenues are gained.

#3. New revenues (1% meals tax for 1-year or $0.60/pack cigarette tax) = $5M

The cigarette tax was brought up for a short discussion that was quickly voted down. Councilwoman Trammell spoke about concerns from convenience stores near Chesterfield losing customers. Altria wasn’t mentioned by name, but it’s an election year and the discussion was short. Wink wink.  

The meals tax was never introduced for discussion.

#4. City department efficiencies = $2.4M

Although a number of cuts were raised for discussion, only one was approved. Councilman Hilbert helped move the discussion along at one point by asking if there was support to approve only 200k in cuts. When it went to a vote, a solid 5 were against.

The capital budget gap started at $40M, with $10M for new construction and $30M for maintenance. Here’s the recap of Richmond Forward identified steps to close it, and City Council’s actions:

#1. New projects = $23M

City Council discussed a list of $23M in cuts to projects that were unplanned in FY16 and NEW to the budget, but after a long discussion there was only one item that mustered 5 votes. The Highland Grove Community Center (pp. 53) originally proposed for $8.4M, was cut in half and $4M was re-directed to schools. This was an extremely confusing conversation as the project’s scope changed from a stand-alone community center to repairs to the existing Overby-Sheppard Elementary. Not mentioned in the discussion was the $8.1M already allocated last year for a new Dove School that could have been used for Overby-Sheppard’s immediate maintenance needs.

Confusion around which projects were a part of the East End’s Transformation Plan and Choice Neighborhoods application was another discussion. Projects for bike boulevards, public housing transformation, and streetscaping that Councilwoman Newbille identified as being a part of this plan seemed like new news to Council.

#2. Redirect “open” projects = $31M

These projects were not discussed and I’m hoping this can happen after budget season. It would be a major disappointment not to explore these funds when compared to the immediate needs of our schools.

#3. Moving “closed” funds = $2.9M

City staff did an investigation and came up with $1.1M in available funds. This list was scrutinized by council members that identified multiple projects still under construction. The total amount was lowered to $700k and this was divided among Council to choose individual projects of $36k to fund.

Parting Thoughts

Schools were the top point of discussion, but actions beyond reallocating additional revenues didn’t muster a majority of support. A block of three members (Baliles, Samuels, and Agelasto) were the main force behind finding and directing additional funding for schools.

The most disappointing point of this process was the CIP. We are seeing incremental steps that will continue a lack of investment in basic facility maintenance or provide a base for growth. Here are a few bummer facts:

  • Only 17% (4M of 23M) of new CIP projects that were unplanned in FY16 went to schools.
  • $9M in CIP maintenance funding brings us to $1.91/SF, but is far below the industry standard $3.40/SF.
  • $0 was given to new construction, thus RPS will have to use $18M allocated last year on this stop-gap plan to build outdoor classrooms.

On the good side, we need to celebrate incremental steps taken by Council and community capacity building around school improvement. The way our current system is structured, budget season will always be a contentious time for those pursuing transformational change. The real budget impact will occur this fall with elections for Mayor, but also ALL THE SEATS on City Council and School Board. Richmond Forward is here to support relationship-based solutions to long standing problems in our schools and neighborhoods. We’re looking to lift-up new voices in the conversation by empowering community leaders to carry Richmond forward. If you’re interesting in joining one of the following Action Teams, be sure to email me today:

  1. Student Expression
  2. Parent Engagement
  3. School Funding & Policy
  4. Neighborhood/Master Plan Update