Richmond mayor tells school board ‘it’s unacceptable’ in debate over new school construction

Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 11:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - There were more fireworks over who should build new schools in Richmond. Last month, there were protests on the streets from students and community leaders angry that the construction of a new George Wythe High School could be delayed. Wednesday, the city council and the school board met for the first time since those protests to try to reach a deal.

“My priority in this discussion is making sure those students get a school that opens in August of 2024. That’s the bottom line for me. That’s the bottom line, and any date after that, any date in 2025, 2026 and 2027, is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable,” Mayor Levar Stoney said.

“I know 2024 is an election year and everybody during election year wants to put a shovel in the ground and look like we did something in front of our constituents. These are our children,” school board member Mariah White fired back.

The debate at hand has to do with the process. Recently, the Richmond School Board decided it wants sole control over the process of building schools. That’s something the city once initiated. Now that the school board has decided to take charge comes the hard reality.

“I do not believe that our current path leads us to an opening of Fall 2024,” Superintendent Jason Kamras said.

There’s strong criticism because the board has to now hire several positions in order to get the ball rolling. Kamras says a new George Wythe may not be possible until 2026, or even 2027.

“I’m hearing the frustration…We also want the same thing,” said city councilwoman Stephanie Lynch.

Yet the debate continues over how to get there. The city says in order to get Wythe built by 2024, leaders would have to advertise for someone to design a school by June 1. The city says it can make that happen, but if schools did it on their own, it would be months later.

“There are no other pathways being explored or are available to the school board at this time?” Stoney asked.

“I’m going to defer to the school board,” Kamras said.

The board seems adamant that it wants to steer the ship.

“If there is documentation that has been developed regarding school construction, I would welcome that the city begin the transfer of those documents, and let’s put the bickering aside,” school board member Kenya Gibson added.

The school system says it needs to create and hire about 10 to 15 new positions, three of them right away to make this happen. Whether or not the city will hand over its resources to the school board to help speed up the process remains to be seen.

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