October 16th has arrived

In the past few months of Richmond Forward updates (August and September), we told you to mark October 16th on the calendar. Our hope was that the School Board’s Ad-Hoc facilities committee would present options for action on Mason and other emergency facility issues. This is not going to happen, which is super disappointing.  

Best case scenario I’ve heard is a presentation from Superintendent Kranz at the November 6th School Board meeting, with members from City Council in attendance.

We can't sit idly by and wait for November 6th. I encourage you to voice your concerns to the School Board (email on homepage) or speak during public comment tonight! At a minimum, we should have the Ad-Hoc facilities committee schedule another meeting. They cancelled their last meeting and haven't scheduled another.  

In following the Ad-Hoc facilities committee, I would speculate that my disappoint is shared by committee chair Cindy Menz-Erb. She’s been a charging voice, but has run into the all too familiar forces of Richmond.

It’s fitting that at tonight’s School Board meeting Paul Goldman will speak on the School Modernization ballot referendum, a measure whose approach proposes to address the exact problem of stagnant Richmond.

School Modernization ballot referendum

Jackie Kruszewsi in Richmond Magazine provides a terrific overview of the referendum, major players, and issues at hand. An example of a previous City Charter change was in 2004, when City Council terms were extended.

As mentioned in the article, I’m conflicted on this effort. My main point is that we have to recognize this for what it is, a political tool to force action on school facilities.

I agree with Michael Paul Williams, who states that this is no magic bullet, and worry that the referendum is being promised as a fix-all measure that will instantly solve failing school facilities. Promises left undone are all too familiar to Richmond's residents (e.g. Blackwell’s HOPE VI, Creighton Court’s East End Initiative, or previously approved school facility plans). 

It is also a fact that there are no regulatory repercussions if the Mayor doesn’t act or if he says it will take 30-years to solve. If we’re funding a 15-year plan, it’s basically impossible for the budget numbers to work out without raising some type of tax (e.g. real estate, cigarette, meals, lodging, PILOT, etc.) because the debt on our CIP - the City's credit card - is maxed out. 

The real wild card is Paul Goldman.

Mr. Goldman has long written about the need to change historic tax credit laws to allow easier access for school facility renovations. His voice influenced members of both sides of the aisle to support this change. Historic tax credits were studied during the facilities task force and were recommended as a tool in funding the plan. In his best efforts, he’s worked to elect L. Douglas Wilder, the first and only African American governor of a southern state, implement the strong-Mayor system in Richmond, and write the "City of the Future" plan which paid for the four schools constructed during the Jones era. 

At worst, he’s a divisive figure along the lines of work colleagues Joe Morrissey or Mayor L. Douglas Wilder. The “fighter" personality has it benefits in challenging the status quo, but it can also select short term individual victories over long-term institutional change. For the issue of school facilities, this is clearly at play with Mayor Stoney’s Education Compact (structural change) vs. Goldman’s School Modernization (short term action).

The same goes for the General Assembly.

In a charter change, they have complete power to write the law however they want. This concern was raised by Councilwoman Ellen Robertson in last week’s Organizational Development Committee meeting. They could establish a state-level school infrastructure fund (e.g. Ohio) or add weird bathroom gender restrictions to Richmond schools. Really, it could go either way, or they could do exactly nothing.  

On November 7th, your vote will decide whether the referendum's short-term required action is necessary to overcome Richmond stagnation, or whether trust in Mayor Stoney's Education Compact will provide us the institutional change we so desperately need.  

For Richmond Forward, we agree with Mr. Goldman and the Crusade for Voters that failing school facilities is the primary civil rights issue of our city. In pursuing solutions, we hold inclusion and empowerment as central beliefs. It can't only be about the destination. It must be about the journey.

The Compact

Tonight's School Board agenda has a proposed selection process for the Education Compact. Be sure to send any comments to the School Board (email on homepage). Also, be sure to contact them or City Council if you would like to be appointed to the Education Compact team. They will be looking for volunteers soon.

School Board Ad-Hoc Finance Committee

The Ad-Hoc Finance committee will have their first meeting tomorrow (October 17th), at 4:30pm in the 17th floor conference room of City Hall. Check out their ambitious agenda. We need their effort to be completed in time to impact the upcoming budget. If you would like to help, Richmond Forward needs someone to follow this group by attending meetings and sending out notes. If you have any interest, please email me.