Summertime in the City

Big Losses

In the past week, Richmond’s media has taken two monumental blows with the loss of RVANews and Richmond Magazine’s Tina Griego.

Tina's Sunday Story series was a true delight, highlighting our community's diversity through tales of struggle and triumph. Her description of RVA is spot-on, "I have never witnessed so plainly the devastating modern consequences of historic policies that quarantined the poor and black. Neither have I lived in a place so abundant in natural and architectural splendor." Tina says the team of writers who'll continue the series are legit, so sign up today

RVANews was our best example of describing the "new Richmond" while simultaneously lifting up the voices of hard working, long-standing community advocates. What an accomplishment.  

In their wake is a craterous hole in the RVA media market for positive stories and informative analysis about issues that matter most. A prime example is Teresa Cole's Education FAQ series which covered the pertinent questions in Richmond's education debate with scholarly investigation, but presented in everyday language.  

Take a minute to read through the comments on Ross' sign off article to absorb the outpouring of support and love. Good Morning, RVA, Ross' daily update of Richmond activity will continue, so be sure to sign up today!

Filling this void beings with Michael Paul-Williams, our most trusted voice. Another must read MPW article dropped last week detailing the funding disparity between Richmond and Henrico schools

The best of the rest (we need you to step up): 

Funding Vote, Already? 

This past budget season wasn't fun for anyone. If we are to improve our current state of friction and contention to predictability and proactive discussion, then it needs to start with planning an RPS budget for multiple years by establishing clear funding benchmarks. 

To begin this path, Councilman Jon Baliles introduced four ordinances that will be discussed at City Council's Finance and Economic Development Standing Committee on Thursday, June 23rd at 3:30pm.

Ordinances 138 and 139 would take money left over (surplus) and earmark either 75% or 100% to schools. 

Ordinance 137 would direct the entire revenues gained from the City's meals tax to schools (projected $35M in FY16). 

Ordinance 140 would direct 60.8% of annual real estate revenues to schools (projected $147M in FY16). 

How were these received? Not well by the Mayor.

Committee discussion has been delayed a few times, but before the last meeting this review was provided by City administration that spells out their unhappiness. I hope you enjoy their use of 15 RED ALL CAPS BOLD FONT statements to drive home the final points. 

While I agree with the Mayor's concern of relying on surplus dedication for sustainable funding, there are real factual missteps in their argument against meals and real estate tax allocation. 

Meals Tax Allocation

This can be easily designated and allocated to schools. Go no further than Henrico County where their entire meals tax is dedicated to school operations or capital. 

Meals taxes are reliable and generally predictable sources that can be estimated in budget planning. See page 3 from the Mayor's document which details a steady progression from $24M in 2009 to $33M in 2016.

This factual reality is in direct opposition to the Mayor's yellow highlighted numbers listed below meals tax revenue on page 3 (which include miscalculations, see corrections in the image below), the entire chart on page 4, and multiple points listed in the "single revenue designation concerns" on page 5


Real Estate Tax Allocation

Further investigation on why 60.8% was selected is needed (there must be one for this this very specific number), but the same rationale for meals tax allocation holds here. Real estate is a predictable source of revenue that all local governments use to project and plan in budgeting. By carving out a portion to address a major priority concern of the city (education), we begin to lessen the unpredictable swings in budgeting due to political posturing. Whether the correct portion is 60.8%, 72.5%, or 50.7%, it should be to the tenth decimal because specificity is fun, and it would provide a major step forward in budget planning. 

A few other reasons why this would be a good solution: 

#1. Provide Adequate Annual Maintenance Funding (RED BOLD ALL CAPS POINT #4

Agree. RPS needs between $11M to $15M annually to provide baseline investment in school facility maintenance. This could easily be accomplished with earmarking a portion of the meals tax to directly fund annual maintenance on school facilities.   

#2. Education as Economic Development

This is the PERFECT opportunity to tie economic development into education. We need to strategically capitalize on our growing food scene and white hot housing market to help our weakest link, schools. Conversely, by investing in education we retain and attract families, thus leading to rising home values and more family dinners at Mama J's. 

#3. Student Need

The Mayor's argument that revenue allocation should match need is a valid point. Benchmarking investment to student enrollment via per pupil spending is a budgeting tactic we should use, but the Mayor is missing the underlying problem of historic disinvestment. On page 6, the analysis uses 2010 as a benchmark to highlight an 8% increase in spending per student, while enrollment only increased 3% during that time. This difference is sited by the Mayor to argue for capped spending on schools.

The real question we should be exploring is what level is needed to provide a world-class education system? A recent report from the Commonwealth Foundation found that "it can cost two to two-and-a-half times as much to help low-income students reach similar levels of performance as students from wealthier families." Before we discuss doubling Henrico and Chesterfields per pupil spending, lets at least start with funding Dr. Bedden's Academic Improvement Plan (AIP), which we've never done. We need to start by quantifying our need, and work backwards to budget. 

Call to Action! 

Before Thursday, June 23rd at 3:30pm, please email City Council with your support of Ordinances 137 and 140.

If you can show up to the meeting, please do. No public comment will be allowed at the committee meeting, but as we saw this spring, public awareness impacts action. These ordinances will eventually be brought to a public hearing at a City Council, but whether it garners enough support will most likely be determined in committee work sessions.

Showing solidarity early in the process towards solutions to our dysfunctional budget process is needed. This ordinance may not be the perfect solution, but it is a much needed attempt to rectify our current situation before next years budget planning begins in October. 

Mark you calendars! 

September 29th 6:30 to 8pm at the VMFA

Richmond magazine is joining five nonprofit organizations for the Mayorathon 2016, a candidate event at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Thursday, Sept. 29th.  This forum, which will have neutral moderators, will focus on four topics: improving public education, transportation, strengthening city neighborhoods and protecting the James River.

Hosts include the James River Association, Richmond Forward (hey that's us!), RVA Rapid Transit, Sports Backers, and Storefront for Community Design.  Forum questions will be guided by candidate responses to surveys that each nonprofit is sending out.  None of these groups are endorsing a candidate.

The forum, which is free and open to the public, will take place from 6:30 to 8pm in the Leslie Cheek Theater and will be followed by a reception, where candidates can mingle with the public from 8 to 9 p.m.