Amid proposed city tax hikes, RPS funds $100K gala, $125K lobbyist position

Questions about $300 million RPS budget

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - In the face of proposed tax and utility hikes for the city of Richmond, City Council members are taking a closer look at how Richmond Public Schools is aiming to spend its $300 million portion of the budget. City Council will ultimately decide how much RPS receives, and changes could be made.

Last month, the Richmond School Board passed its $300 million spending plan, which included $13 million in cuts. The reductions included laying off nearly 50 positions, including attendance officers. Some areas losing funding are special education, a math/science innovation center and tutoring.

New spending items include:

  • $100,000 for an ‘excellence gala’ for predominantly teachers and staff
  • $125,000 for a paid, in-house lobbyist (more than double what was spent on a lobbyist role in the previous budget)
  • $100,000 dollars for RPS personnel to travel to other schools to observe ‘best practices’
  • $250,000 for other ‘celebrations’ involving students, like awards ceremonies and team building field trips

City Council member Kim Gray says RPS needs to fund the basics first, such as classroom chairs. Last year, Richmond’s Open High School started an online fundraiser for 200 new chairs.

“If I’m being asked to ask my constituents to spend more money and to pay higher taxes... should it be for parties and for galas, at the cost of nearly half a million dollars... if you add in all of the parties they’re proposing in the strategic plan? Or should it be for actual results,” said Gray.

Superintendent Jason Kamras says the gala and celebrations were approved by the School Board to help recognize both student and staff achievement, and foster a positive learning environment. The money would fund things like a scholastic luncheon or certificates for honor roll students.

Gray believes that spending tax dollars on a high-paid lobbyist is money that could be much better used elsewhere.

“We’re cutting instructional staff, and we’re cutting special education services…. and I don’t understand the logic behind it,” said Gray, “For a school district that is having financial challenges, to go out and hire someone at that salary is honestly mind boggling.'”

Kamras says the lobbyist could help bring in millions of dollars of state money to RPS.

“We need to keep the pressure on the state to make sure that RPS gets all the funding the it needs,” said Kamras. “And that is an investment of ($125,000)…that could yield $20 million in state funding, or more.”

The City Council is in the midst of hashing out the city’s budget, which includes all RPS funding and will make the final decision in upcoming weeks.

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