RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond Schools says it needs nearly $24 million to balance the budget, but Mayor Dwight Jones told them Monday, he doesn't have the money to give them.
He called the system mediocre and pointed to mismanagement that landed them in a budget shortfall again. Now, he's developing his own task force to help the schools get back on track.
Everyone agrees that students come first, but Mayor Jones made it pretty clear that he doesn't intend to make up for the school's budget shortfall on the backs of taxpayers.
"To begin with, the city doesn't have an additional $24 million and let me assure you we're not going to raise taxes during a recession to generate another $24 million," said Jones.
He says he asked the schools to find other ways to cut once and says they didn't do it.
"This kind of management is not sustainable and it is unfortunate," said Jones.
Plus, he says the schools are under performing, so he's enlisted a task force to help improve efficiency and education.
"I'm committed to spending what we need to get excellent results with our children, but first we need to get comfortable with the spending of the school system," said Jones. "We have to be comfortable with the return we get on our annual investment. "
We asked school board leader, Dawn Page, if the school could cut $24 million. After a deep sigh, she told us she didn't know.
But, the superintendent says she welcomes the challenge.
"We want to have that satisfaction that we're spending the money in the right place and a fresh set of eyes could do that for us," said Dr. Yvonne Brandon. "We're ready to cooperate and do what we need to do."
And based on Mayor Jones' presentation, she doesn't really have a choice. Speaking about the task force and the future of children, he said: "You are either with me, or you are in the way."
The task force's job will be two-fold. They will work to balance the budget in the next 5 to 6 weeks before teacher contracts are due. Then, they will work for a year on improving the efficiency in the system and education.
This is the official press release from the Mayor's Office:
Richmond, VA – Mayor Dwight C. Jones today announced the formation of a Task Force to review the Richmond Public Schools budget request to the city. The money the city provides to the Schools operating budget is already the largest on-going appropriation for a single agency in the city's budget. The request sent to the Mayor this year is asking for an additional $24 million.
"Too often in the City budget process, we focus our time and attention on 'city' services," said Mayor Jones. "We tend to treat the school system as a 'grantee,' funding them with little review. I'm committed to spend what we need to get excellent results with education for our children, but first we need a comfort level on RPS spending."
The Schools Accountability and Efficiency Review Task Force will be co-chaired by James W. Dyke, Jr. and Eva Teig Hardy. Jim Dyke is a former Virginia Secretary of Education under Governor Douglas Wilder, and currently a partner with McGuire Woods. Eva Hardy is a former Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources (Governor Gerald Baliles), former Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry (Governor Charles Robb), and a former Senior Vice President of Dominion Resources. "Both individuals bring to the table a commitment to education and a strong business background," said Mayor Jones.
"In the short term, over the next 5-6 weeks, I am asking the commission to review the schools budget, spending and operations to identify efficiencies, potential consolidations with the city, and other management practices that will yield savings and help bring a close to the current budget problem," Mayor Jones continued. "Some of these discussions have taken place already and continue between my administration and the School system, but we are looking for fresh eyes and fresh ideas."
"The long-term plan is to develop strategies and initiatives that will inform us about where and how we can invest our education dollars, to generate the maximum return on the investment in public education."
Other members of the Mayor's Task Force include:
Jack Berry, Director of Venture Richmond, and former Richmond budget director; Peter Blake, Director, State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), and former Virginia Secretary of Education (Governor Mark Warner); Angela Dews, President of the Richmond Education Association; Brenda Drew, former Principal of Open High School; B. Keith Fulton, Vice President, Mid-Atlantic Region, Verizon Communications; Darius Johnson, President of the Consolidated Division of Premier Bank; Panny Rhodes, former State delegate and a former math teacher; and Ron Tillett, former Secretary of Finance (Governors George Allen and Jim Gilmore) and current advisor with Morgan Keegan.
City Council President Kathy Graziano and Council HHS Committee Chair Chris Hilbert will serve as ex-officio members of the Task Force. "In this way, we are building in the City Council review process to coordinate with the work of this important Task Force," Mayor Jones said.
"My expectations of this group are simple: Help me put our public schools on a path to excellence. This commission will work over the next year to do just that. In establishing this Task Force, I am explicitly asking the members to keep their eye on EXCELLENCE in our School System, and how we can help to achieve it.
"My number one commitment is to focus more money in the classroom, with teachers teaching students – and getting excellent outcomes. Again, if we need to provide more money to RPS to get better results for students, then we will. However, one way of putting more money in the classrooms and in the hands of teachers, is to spend less money in the offices. We recognize that this process has begun, but we need to push the envelope and speed the process along.
"The question isn't whether we fund $24 million extra for schools. The question is: what do we need to invest in schools to prepare our children to be competitive in the world economy?"