“We live in our own version of the Twin Cities — one ascendant, the other mired in violence and decay. We’ll call them RVA and Richmond.”
These opening words of Michael Paul Williams’ latest piece of literary brilliance describing how Mason Elementary is centrally representative of this divide in schools, housing, and more. Additional coverage on Mason Elementary by the RTD’s Katy Burnell Evans and Richmond Free Press’ Saraya Wintersmith, account for recent school board and Mason community efforts to address this dire situation.
Bridging the Gap
The School Board will hold a 6pm public hearing on Monday, July 31st at Mason Elementary to consider actions before the school year start. This has the opportunity to become a monumentally important step for Richmond for two reasons:
- It represents this School Board’s first step and first opportunity to address long-standing facility needs.
- The coalition of north, south, and west side Richmonders showing up to support the east side Mason community is a positive step in addressing our RVA and Richmond divide.
However, the School Board could just as easily vote to do nothing.
Doing nothing is a choice to continue the status quo of a broken commitment to our children as realized through failing school facilities. This perpetuates the divide between RVA and Richmond.
Call to Action
This is where you come into play.
The Mason community needs to be at this meeting to make their voices heard! Richmond Forward has teamed with Peter Paul Development Center, Church Hill Activities & Tutoring, Area 10 Faith Community, Support Our Schools, Fox Elementary PTA, Principal Furgeson and staff of Mason Elementary to provide FREE TRANSPORTATION and FOOD! Over 500 of these event flyers have been passed out in the community already. We have enough pizza to feed 200 people and we want even more people to show up and PACK THE HOUSE.
You can help by doing one, or all of the following:
- Share this Facebook event.
- Sign and share this petition started by George Mason parents.
- Share the event flyer with your network or print off and put in a local gathering place.
- Reach out to anyone associated with Mason Elementary and get them to this meeting.
- Contact School Board via email (RF homepage one-click) or call to support action on Mason Elementary before the next school year. Bonus points if you can get your workplace or organization to write a letter of support.
- Show up to the meeting on July 31st at 6pm and speak in support of action for Mason Elementary.
- Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call (440) 796-0298 if you want to help from 5pm to 6pm on Monday, July 31st, to hand out food or talk to families about options being considered by the School Board.
Options for Mason
The voices of people most directly impacted by this decision should have equal weight to school facility planning and analysis conducted by administration or organizations like Richmond Forward. This is why Richmond Forward’s efforts are to team with local groups to get people to the table.
Once they’re at the table, they need something to eat.
Below is an overview of the facilities task force findings, facilities budget, and my (Garet Prior) assessment of the options presented to the School Board for Monday night.
Facilities Task Force
The facilities task force plan called for the new construction of a larger Mason Elementary to be built in Phase II (years 5-10). Mason Elementary was identified as one of the poorest quality facilities in all of Richmond. The delay in addressing Mason Elementary was to due to a lack of resources. With limited funds, we would use the first funds to address southside Richmond’s similar egregious environmental needs at Elkhardt and Wythe, or overcrowding at Greene and Broad Rock.
The task force decided to monitor Mason Elementary and have options in place to address emergency needs. Options included those similar to what are being proposed today with rezoning to nearby elementary schools or moving them to Franklin Military, which would in effect send Franklin Military students to open seats on northside Richmond.
Similar rezoning options to “reshuffle the deck” are not possible on southside where there are no additional elementary seats. Children would have to be bussed to northside, which would destroy the neighborhood-school model and greatly increase transportation costs.
Through the past two-years, City Council allocated $14M in the CIP (page 58) for new school maintenance. Superintendent Kranz is correct in saying we should be careful about spending these funds as similar environmental concerns exist throughout the district and that facility dollars have long-term impacts.
In a best case scenario, this $14M would be used to begin design work on new Greene Elementary, Elkhardt Middle, and renovated and expanded Westover Hills Elementary (Phase I).
But, until future dollars for new facility construction are allocated by City Council (page 173), this $14M has been reserved. Even if City Council were to allocate $25M to construct a new Mason Elementary today, it would take at a minimum 2-years to plan and construct.
This is not to say that action at Mason Elementary is impossible, but a long-term solution will not be immediate.
If we liken Mason Elementary’s facility to a profusely bleeding, broken leg, I would group the the proposed options (numbers) as follows:
Let it bleed. Return children to school with same conditions and make no attempt to direct funds to address even the most basic emergency needs.
Option #1. Students attend Mason while costly renovations ($5M) are underway. These repairs would be temporary and wouldn’t address the main environmental problems. Students remain in poor quality facility while money for long-term solution is accrued.
Option #2. Students attend Mason for first half of school-year and move to Clark Springs in December. There is no future plan and students would either remain at Clark Springs or return to their poor quality facility while money for a long-term solution is accrued.
Option #8. Outdoor classrooms are purchased to house Mason students for multiple years while money is accrued to construct a new facility. Annual cost to school district for additional trailers would drain the capital budget and limit future savings.
Option #5. Mason students would stay in their building for the next 2 years, while Henderson Middle is renovated to accommodate Community High and Franklin Military students. Mason students are eventually moved into nearby and safer facility at Franklin Military while they await a long-term solution.
Option #7. Students stay at Mason until December and move to Clark Springs indefinitely until money is accrued to build a new facility. Similar to option #2.
Option #4. Mason students are rezoned to Woodville, Fairfield, Chimborazo and Bellevue before the start of school. Mason school community is disbanded and all schools await a long-term solution to fix facility problems.
Option #6. Mason students moved to nearby and safer facility at Franklin Military. Franklin Military students moved to poorer quality facility at Norrell and Norrell Annex. Both schools await long-term fix to facility issues.
Option #3. Mason students move to Franklin Military, a better quality nearby school. Franklin Military students are moved into open seats at Community High, a similar quality facility that is closer than Henderson Middle. Mason, Franklin Military, and Community High students can learn in safe facility while money is accrued for long-term solution.
Which one of these options is chosen is up to the School Board, but they need to hear from you. Please act today to voice your opinion and help lift up the voices of those most impacted - the residents of Mosby Court.
Update on the Compact
City Council voted at their July 24th informal work session to re-schedule the Compact public hearing to August 21st. The intention will be to hold a joint public hearing with the School Board that evening.
Compact public hearing details:
- August 21st at 6pm
- City Hall, joint meeting with School Board and City Council