Educational Editorial: Building city schools

By Dr. Bill Bosher, NBC12 Educational Specialist

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond's leadership, the Mayor and City Council, have all decided its school facilities need serious help. With this quest comes some critical decisions.

The first is where to renovate, replace, retrofit or remove a building.

The second is simply, "who actually decides which buildings will be impacted?" The school board is the constitutional answer, but they are fiscally dependent; therefore, the funding entity, the City, may also want some say about which communities will be impacted.

The third issue involves how to pay for the capital needs. Well, in Virginia you have multiple options: cash, bonds, the Literary Fund, the Virginia Public School Authority, a lease purchase arrangement or a public-private partnership which may include the use of historical tax credits…an approach used to fund the Governor's Schools in Richmond and Petersburg.

While the selection of architects and contractors is critical, the last real planning issue is timing, who gets what first?

According to the BCWH study done several years ago, Richmond had a half billion dollars in maintenance and renovation needs, now probably approaching a billion dollars. The operating expenses that are required to maintain failing facilities, not to speak of the educational environment, far outweigh the demand for debt service over the next 20-30 years.

Oh, …and three years ago when a former chair of the School Board was asked, "if you put all of the empty seats in buildings, how many schools would you have?" His response was about 15 -- that was 25 percent of the buildings without touching staffing or pupil-teacher ratios.

While the city is to be commended for its commitment, it still has a few to close. This could help with expenses.

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