Here’s a magic trick. Tear down an old school (in this case Overby-Sheppard Elementary School in Richmond), build a new one in its place using nearly all allocated capital ground funds for school improvements across the city, and argue that this will help everyone in the entire school system. Magic, right?
It’s the kind of trick School Board members Glen Sturtevant, Kimberly B. Gray, Kristen N. Larson and Mamie Taylor don’t think the Richmond City Council should get away with.
The problem is relatively simple. Out of a 22 million dollar budget, 21 million dollars is going to rebuild one school, while all the remaining schools must somehow manage on what remains.
In an open letter to the council, the group of school board members wrote:
“… on Monday night you allocated less than $1 million for the facility needs of 50 schools and $21 million for the Dove Court School.”
“The allocation of the Dove School project is at the expense of the vast needs of our other 50 school buildings and the remaining 23,000 students that occupy those buildings ….”
The letter was necessary, says Kristen Larson speaking with Richmond Magazine reporter, Chris Dovi, in light of the state of the district’s other buildings. She noted that the currently proposed capital budget for schools works out to about $43 per child – a pittance.
And there are relatively dramatic needs that go well beyond the Overby-Sheppard Elementary School: a collapsed ceiling at Carver Elementary, holes in the roof at Fairfield Court Elementary, and exposed, overheating pipes at George Mason Elementary that gave one student there second-degree burns when he accidentally leaned against one.
“So if something breaks at Westover Hills [Elementary], I’m basically going to have to show up with my checkbook,” Larson told Richmond Magazine. “Westover Hills is slated to get a new roof in 2014 at a cost of about $400,000. What am I going to do if something happens?”
It’s not like this information should take City Council by surprise. Three facilities studies have been conducted over the past 10 years to help keep City Council members abreast of the current infrastructure needs for the school system. Studies they have apparently chosen to ignore.
For example, Overby-Sheppard opened in 1978 and is relatively young by the standards of the city’s public schools. Carver Elementary, conversely, dates back to 1886. Forty-one other schools were built prior to 1970. Only seven schools have been built since Overby-Sheppard. In the district’s maintenance plan, it ranks 22nd of 27 elementary school buildings in terms of expected building needs.
Michael Paul Williams writing in the Richmond Times-Dispatch was even more pointed:
“Whatever the objective behind the push to demolish and replace Overby-Sheppard Elementary School, it comes down to an indefensible case of preferential treatment.”
“The Richmond City Council — in allocating $21 million to rebuild a relatively new facility in better condition than the vast majority of Richmond’s public schools — has decided that the middle-class families it hopes to lure to a new Dove Court-area development count more than the children in deteriorating school buildings in other neighborhoods.”
Kirsten Gray spoke to City Council last night regarding the school budget. These were her comments:
“Good evening. I am Kirsten Gray speaking on behalf of the Alliance for Progressive Values.
APV acknowledges the good work of the School Board and their efforts to balance the budget and close an 11.5 million dollar gap.
In February, we urged the School Board to ask the city for additional funds to cover any shortfall, and they have done so. But that is not enough. The school’s basic needs still have not been met.
In support of our city schools, we ask you, our city council, to allocate more money to Richmond Public Schools – the $25 million dollars for facility maintenance needed for the upcoming year, and the $8 million requested by the School Board for programming needs.
We question the Dove Court School project.
Why tear down Overby-Sheppard, slated for cosmetic repairs only, to build a new school costing $21 million when we have 50 schools needing $25 million in maintenance and repairs? A collapsed ceiling at Carver, mystery black substance leaking into classrooms at Fairfield Court and Thompson, overheating exposed pipes at Mason which caused a student’s second degree burns, and that’s only to mention a few. Ginter Park alone needs $1 million in upgrades to remain open. To give 50 schools $500,000 for maintenance is unjust and an insult.
In addition to our schools being in disrepair, we have a supply and staff shortage. My daughter’s 9th grade language class has 15 books for 38 students and not enough desks to go around. From the guidance department, I hear they lack paper. In an elective course, there may be over 30 students, half with Individualized Education Programs and only one teacher – no aides.
We are talking about basics here, a sound roof over students’ heads, books and desks for every student, and a school fully staffed so that teachers can do their jobs and students can learn. These are needs, not wants, of our city’s schools, and until those needs are met, rebuilding a school that doesn’t need it doesn’t make sense.
You might say the Dove Court School is a done deal, however, if the city is willing to front and shuffle money at a moment’s notice for the Redskins, certainly you are capable of reallocating funds to cover the needs of the city’s students.”