A new era is starting for Richmond Public Schools, as new school board members were sworn in Thursday. Major changes in the makeup of the board could signal a shift for city schools.
Seven of the nine members are new to the school board. Of the two returning, only one of them has a leadership role. In a bit of a power play, the other lost the chairmanship to a city hall insider.
After a close vote of 5-4, Jeff Bourne starts his one year term as school board chair. He just served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Dwight Jones. It's relationships he's built during his time there, he says will help build consensus to move RPS forward without some of the traditional political infighting.
"We've got middle schools that need a ton of work," he explained. "We've got truancy rates that are concerning. We've got graduation rates we need to raise and we've got to prepare our young kids for college and the workforce. We've got a lot of work to do but no job is more important than the budget."
Already this year, that budget is on track to once again come up short.
"We're not interested and we wouldn't support a budget that impacts the classroom anymore than it was last year," Bourne maintained.
Disagreement over funding came to a head last year. Mayor Dwight Jones says now, with seven fresh sets of eyes on the board, things might go differently.
"I think it's healthy, really, to have the dialogue and discussion between my office, the council and the school board, as long as it's not disagreeable and I think we may be able to accomplish that this time," Jones added.
Kim Gray, who had often been the lone dissenting voice on the board, believes those fresh eyes have new motivation.
"We have more parents of students in the Richmond Public School Board, current, younger students, so I think that gives an added touch to the communities we're serving," she said.
Gray lost the election for chair by one vote. Some have said even though one of the mayor's former staffer won that seat, that doesn't mean he has a rubber stamp on all initiatives and funding. He might find a new ally in another member, however; his son was just elected to represent the eighth district on the school board.
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