Superintendent Landed, Facilities and Compact Taking Off

Crowded conference room announcing Jason Kamras as new Superintendent (self-taken)

Crowded conference room announcing Jason Kamras as new Superintendent (self-taken)

Facilities Step Forward?

The School Board is heading into a facilities discussion this Thursday, Nov 27th at 6pm. Hooray! But, with incomplete data on their options (read about later in update) it's unclear whether a final decision will be driven by politics or quality planning.

Whether the School Board goes with larger or smaller schools, we need to base decisions off of quality planning to keep from repeating past mistakes. For example, the 2007 facilities plan became overly political, Broad Rock Elementary was built too small and became overcrowded within the first four years.

Please contact your School Board member before Nov 30th at 6pm and ask them to request data behind Plan A and B (updated enrollment, capacity, and financial impact details) to inform their decision. You can one-click email them on the homepage or call today!

Jason Kamras, New Superintendent

In reading the coverage (R-TD, WTVR, and WRIC), Jason Kamras (@JasonKamras) looks like a big win for Richmond. Paired with Mayor Stoney, Richmond will be home to two young stars of the national Democratic party.

The promise of these individuals, and their network of resources, will only be realized if they complete the detailed work of rebuilding our government and bridging the RVA-Richmond gap. Completing steps like submitting the CAFR ahead of schedule is a prime example of essential, non-sexy, work to build better government. Apologies to those who thought CAFRs brought sexy back.  

To gain a better understanding of Superintendent Kamras', read RVA Dirt's breakdown and their awesome list of resources!

Kamras video interviews that stood out to me:

First step for Superintendent Kamras will be a listening tour. I'm expecting this to take up most of the spring. In reviewing the structure of his former employer, DC Public Schools (DCPS), I  wouldn't be surprised if we're headed towards a reordering of planning and budget documents:

Check out the Richmond Forward timeline for thoughts for how the listening tour and updating the strategic, academic, and capital plans could align with city-wide efforts to update the Master Plan (Richmond 300) and Education Compact.  

Facilities Plan

The facilities plan adopted by the previous school board (Option 5) from the facilities task force, is now being considered by a completely new board (all 9 members). On November 20th, Interim Superintendent Kranz presented two updated options (video):

Plan A (Equalization) = $800M over 20-years

This plan is similar to the facilities task force Option 3 (pages 20-23, 65) or the “Oprah everyone gets a car” plan. There would be no consolidation of schools (there would be rezonings) and every physical school building today would renovated or newly constructed to the level of RPS’s newest facilities (e.g. Huguenot High, MLK Middle, and Oak Grove Elementary). Richmond’s neighborhood-level school system would stay in place.

Plan B (Right-Sizing) = $741M over 20-years

This plan is similar to the facilities task force Option 5 (pages 67-68), which could be referred to as right-sizing (supported by Mayor Stoney). Newly built schools would be built at larger sizes to lessen the total number of schools through rezoning and consolidation. Every child would walk into a new school facility, it just may be a different school.

Facilities presentation hand out (November 20, 2017) 

Facilities presentation hand out (November 20, 2017) 

Analysis

The RTD's Justin Mattingly provided coverage of detailed actions for the first 5-years. School Board action for years 5 through 20 were not revealed.  

There are only a few differences between Plan A and B for the first 5-years. The student-size design build for a new Elkhardt (1,500), Greene (1,000), and Wythe (possibly 2,000) would be the same.  

The major difference is with the design size of Mason Elementary. In Plan A, the student-size design build (600) would serve the same zone. In Plan B, the student-size design build (1,000) would serve Mason students and others from an adjacent school (possibly Woodville, Fairfield, Chimborazo, and/or Bellevue, but cannot confirm).

Overall, this presentation lacked the details we’ve become accustomed to in a Kranz presentation. Plan A actions were presented with detailed steps and Plan B was partially mentioned vocally. Here are other items that are concerning:

  1. No financial analysis of the long-term impact to operating and CIP budgets was provided. Capital costs between Plan A and B differ by $50M, but one of the compelling reasons behind Option 5 was to free up future dollars to reinvest into the classroom. To provide a quick estimate, 10% of new construction should be allocated for maintenance. This adds up quickly when combined with past unmet needs (RPS should be receiving $17.9M/year for maintenance, yet over past decade has received $5.5M/year).
  2. Updated enrollment projections and capacity data has yet to be made public. We in the public and members of the School Board have no way of providing precise feedback.
  3. The 20-year plan is a change from the 2015 15-year plan. The rationale from Mr. Kanz was to accommodate the shifting of students during construction. But, it’s unclear whether a 15-year plan could be accomplished if consolidation was on the table (Plan B).
  4. During the facilities task force study, Mr. Kranz said 1,000 students per building was the break even number to cover facilities cost for an elementary. On November 20th, Mr. Kranz said 500 students per building was break even.
  5. The presentation covered the numbers, but didn’t mention the other community factors studied by the facilities task force (read the previous RF update or this facilities task force overview document) that factored into the selection of these schools.

Personally, I’ll give Mr. Kranz a mulligan on this one because of his long-standing attention to detail and history of being an independent voice. I’m hopeful that Thursday's work session on facilities provides the public full access to data and a clear weighing of the options. We desperately need transparency from our leaders in government to inform public discourse and decision making.   

Next steps

November 30th, 6pm in City Hall (17th Floor) facilities work session with the full School Board to discuss options. No public comment is planned.

December 4th, 6pm in City Hall (17th floor) regular School Board meeting. There could be a possible vote to endorse a facilities plan. Public comment will be taken.

It’s unclear whether community meetings, as recommended by Kranz, will be conducted prior to a facilities vote. But, these may happen and will be an important opportunity to voice your opinion.

Also, a joint meeting the City Council and Mayor before 2018 is required by the Compact. I would expect a vote from School Board on facilities at their December 4th or this meeting.

Education Compact

Speaking of the Compact, the application is open until December 15th. Apply here today! Submit the application online (English or Español), and any questions or resumes can be sent to rvaeducationcompact@gmail.com.

Thriving Richmond

Please complete this survey! The next steps in our process to strengthen the network between advocates and service providers is explained in this update. We've had 20 groups complete it so far, and we're hoping to get at least another 10 on board to inform our next meetup.