Budget: The Finale

The final vote on next fiscal year's budget (FY17: July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017) will be made tonight at City Hall. The meeting starts at 6pm, but Support Our Schools is meeting up for food trucks and friendship at 4:30pm by City Hall. Their goal is to raise the number of speakers from 70 to 100!

I'm plugging them here, because RIchmond Forward's model of capacity building is driven by servant-leadership. We view organizational growth by working through existing systems (where available) to empower individuals for change. A group of Richmond Forward supporters will be at City Hall from 5:30-6:30pm tonight to help capture contact information for Support Our Schools, with the goal of developing a network of school and neighborhood contact this summer. Please email me or meet us on the Board Street side of City Hall at 5:30pm if you can help out! 

What's being decided at the meeting?

#1. The increased school funding amendments from City Council being reported ($4M maintenance and $5.6M operations) need to be formally approved. Currently, the budget for next year sits at the levels of funding originally proposed by the Mayor. Politically, this would be a disaster for anyone on City Council to go back on painstakingly agreed-upon work session amendments, but legally it isn't final. Please show up tonight and speak in favor of these amendments! 

#2. Is a more peculiar story. Tied to increases in school funding is a requirement that City Council approve any cost overruns or transfers between categories within the school's budget (i.e. categorical funding). From feedback I've received, this is an attempt by Council to play a more active role in reviewing and approving school finances, with the opportunity to provide additional funding to address cost overruns mid-year. Also, during one of the work sessions, it was mentioned by Dr. Bedden and Mr. Westbay that this funding allocation was possible (something that school administration soon "took back" once reviewing further).  

Similar attempts at categorical funding were attempted throughout the budget work sessions as Council members have become frustrated with mismatches between dollar allocation and expenditure. These attempts failed as it was strongly recommended by City administration that this would create a greater bureaucratic burden and hamstring operations. Our wonderful Cheif Administrative Officer, Selena Cuffee-Glenn (who we need to retain for the next 4-years), even mentioned that in her former workplace (City of Suffolk) funds were permitted to move between city departments without Council approval.   

Whether you and I agree with this action, I hope we all agree that Richmond needs improved communication and a better understanding of government best practices. Transparency and accountability for school funds is the central task of the School Board. Not discussing categorical funding with them before this decision makes it seem like less of an attempt by Council to improve our schools, and more of an attempt at grabbing power. 

It's my hope that through this next election we can develop a system of leadership and engaged citizens that will break our narrative that Richmond is a dysfunctional government system of in-fighting and miscommunication. We can achieve the goal of greater communication, through just that, greater communication. 

Instead of jumping to greater legislative control of the school's budget, what if City Council were to receive monthly presentations from RPS administration at a City Council standing committee meeting on financial reports; or solidify a schedule of quarterly joint City Council-School Board meeting schedule to receive updates on finances, academic improvement, facilities, and other topics?

To me, these steps provide the conversation baseline for improved inter-governmental coordination between the Mayor, City Council, and School Board. Sorry for the sidebar. 

What's good from the categorical funding discussion is an understanding that that money alone will not solve our problems. Developing a "package" of government reforms and public-private partnerships, to partner with funding, is being conducted by our Policy & Funding Action Team to help implement the approved RPS Facilities Plan. Check out our initial framework and contact me if you want to help!