Mayor, City Council, and School Board get together

Did anything important happen at the joint School Board-City Council meeting?

Yes, and why...

The Mayor showed up (for 90 minutes)! The past two joint meetings have been without this important figure in the room. Goal for next time should be to have City administration stay the whole time. Maybe we should provide better lunch offerings. Who wouldn’t stay for a Copolla’s or Garnett’s?

Conversations about coordination between schools, budgeting, and anti-poverty efforts are essential. The presentation by Thad Williamson and Mark Olinger on the City’s neighborhood revitalization strategy is based on quality research and details a framework for transforming our most impoverished communities.

“But the schools: probably the biggest factor in families’ decision about whether to remain or flee.” – Paul Grogan and Tom Procio, Comeback Cities  

This quote from the City’s presentation got me thinking. The School Board and Mayor’s conflict over schools comes down to a misunderstanding about where emphasis should be placed in school investment. Let me explain.

We have three groups of school facilities in Richmond.

1. Schools with over-flowing capacity needs that cannot be alleviated with rezoning or schools collapsing due to disinvestment.

2. Schools that are economic development drivers/catalysts due to their location in neighborhoods on the rise. School investment in these areas could provide the leverage to maintain and further real estate investment.

3. Schools in highly impoverished neighborhoods where a coordination of housing, services, transportation, environment, and education improvements are needed.

The Mayor’s presentation details the plan for group 3, the School Board is talking about group 1, and Councilwoman Robertson is talking about group 2 (Dove School). 

Option 5 of the Facilities Task Force Plan (generally) phased school investment as group 1 (years 1-5), group 2 (years 6-10), and group 3 (years 11-15).

The rationale was that we needed to start where the need was costing us the most. Stop the ship from leaking water before we set sail.

Investing in catalyzing neighborhoods would maintain and spur further investment in that area - hopefully spilling over to surrounding areas - by retaining and attracting more families. Real estate taxes provide the backbone revenues for the City, and these additional dollars would be used to fund the needs of group 3. The ship is ready for sea, lets head towards safe waters. 

Group 3 needs the most coordination and investment. As we see with Creighton Court, it takes time to plan with communities to overhaul housing construction and build new neighborhoods. Thad Williamson mentioned "5 to 10 years to build support across sectors," and Mark Olinger mentioned 10 years for neighborhood redevelopment. Money saved from facility investments in groups 1 and 2, combined with new revenues from group 2, would pay for new school and additional services needed in the transformation of group 3 schools and neighborhoods. The seasoned crew and sturdy ship is ready to traverse the treacherous waters.  

Sorry for the tangent, but this is the crux of the issue.

City Council will have to decide how to meet the impending needs of providing basic safety needs of schools - a civil rights issue - with providing a long-term investment plan for anti-poverty efforts. Its not one or the other, its one and the other. 

I've got more to say on Group 2 and Dove School in the next update, stay tuned. 

Next steps for collaboration between City Council and School Board are undetermined. I’ve heard from a few officials that a positive step would be for City Council to officially adopt the recommended Option 5 from the RPS Facilities Task Force Plan. Richmond Forward highly recommends this action as uniting government around an adopted plan for facilities is a best practice to obtain large sums of money from state or private partners. Also, communicating the plan for each school provides transparency that is the basis for student, parent, teacher, and community buy-in.

The Richmond Forward policy team – yes we have one and I will let you join – recommends developing a “Facilities Package”  as an attempt to marry physical infrastructure plans, with key reforms in government operation, community partnerships, and coordination with anti-poverty efforts to make infrastructure dollars truly transformative.

This package was sent to City Council and School Board members last week, and an action item is on the way!  

One of the recommended actions would be to establish a policy that directs revenues of excess school property sales back to schools. Councilman Parker Agelasto has introduced a paper (ORD2016-092) to do such a thing. It is scheduled for the Finance and Economic Development Committee (March 24th) and then City Council (March 28th)Please contact your City Council representative in support! 

How do we pay for all our school needs?

The Mayor is contacting with Davenport and Company - same people that provided an analysis of the City's debt capacity - to organize a group to provide a multi-year school investment schedule that identifies public and private sources of income for the next 10 years. A project evaluation team (city and school board staff, City Council and School Board representatives, legal and financial advisers, and business and community representatives), will be assembled in April and provide the findings by June 1.

The real meat of this committee’s findings will come in action steps #4 - #6. The schools have already provided us with projected capital needs for schools in the next 5 and 15 years. This Davenport study does contain the factors we need to inform future actions. The test will be in the following:

  • How inclusive of new voices will this committee be? Will we draw from the traditional Richmond establishment (Shockoe Bottom baseball) or from a diverse cross-section of the community (Anti-Poverty Plan)? 
  • How inventive are the proposed private partnerships? Tools such as PPEA, historic tax credits, and performance contracts have already been studied, but what about true community schools that leverage major investment (e.g. University of Central Florida leveraged a 20-year MOU with private service providers for Orange County Schools).
  • How defined are the public funding scenarios and schedule? Parker Agelasto identified key questions about what's left of the $50 million in debt capacity and problems with directing a percentage of future revenues public funding projections. Like the Mayor mentioned in the meeting, more definition is needed for the proposed fall referendum.  

The downside to this possibly awesome information is that its arrival on June 1st will be too late to impact this year’s budget. The next big date for this budget season is April 11th when City Council budget amendment papers are due. These papers detail each City Councilperson’s desire to change numbers presented by the Mayor.

The best analysis of the current budget, through the view of increased funding for schools, is this amazingly extensive report prepared by school administration and presented to the Support our Schools group last week. Really, reading this is worth your time! 

What can you do between now and April 11th to help out?

If you’re into budgeting and numbers, you can help by contacting me because Richmond Forward is gathering a funding team to meet and come up with options for this year!

If you’re not budgeting and numbers inclined, you can help please contact the City Clerk (646-7955) and ask to sign up to speak on April 11th. There will be two opportunities to speak at the meeting, general comment and budget specific. Then, join the Support our Schools Facebook group, read about what is going on, and plan to attend an action alert meeting. They are doing a terrific job of crowd-source answering questions as they arise. 

Next time on Update Central [queue Serial music] we'll dive into the talk about school closings, Dove School redevelopment, and the history of deferred maintenance. Hope to see you then.