Council vote to transfer George Wythe funds to RPS board fails

Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 6:18 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 28, 2022 at 11:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After hours of debate and public comment during Monday’s City Council meeting, the fate of a new George Wythe High school is still in limbo. Despite receiving a majority of yes votes, the vote to transfer city funds to the Richmond School Board failed.

The council needed six yes votes in order to pass the budget transfer. Of the seven council members present, four voted yes, while three others abstained from voting.

The RPS board requested this funding months ago to help with the construction of a new George Wythe High School.

However, the city council tabled the vote in December, asking for more communication from the district and saying it had concerns about capacity limits for the new building.

The two sat down face to face last week.

Last week, the council agreed to hold a vote on funding after a heated back and forth during a joint meeting with the school board, with both parties debating on the capacity limits f the new school.

Those capacity limits retook center stage during Monday’s council meeting.

“You have no idea what it’s like to show up meeting after meeting and listen to people justify a 20-year hold-up in school funding! You are the 21st year!” shouted one speaker. “The school board said we can’t trust the city with our schools, and you have proven them right every single day for four months!”

“I cannot, in good faith, agree blindly with transferring money to RPS with the hope that they will do the right thing to accommodate future growth for students on the southside,” said another speaker.

When accused by some public speakers of purposefully delaying the progress of George Wythe, 1st District Councilman Andreas Addison, who abstained, says his vote was about making sure money is spent wisely.

“This is not a who knows best situation, this is, and I am council, and I am focusing on growth,” said Addison. “In growth, we have to have not a scarcity mindset, but a growth mindset, and that starts with investments like this.”

In response, councilwoman Kristen Nye, who voted to release the funds, argues that some council members are dragging their feet.

“So, if you vote against this budget transfer tonight, then what is your plan?” Nye asked. “I have not heard of any plan except for the school board needs to compromise to 1,800 school students or more.”

Cheryl Burke and Dawn Paige of the School Board agreed with the vote, arguing that the school board doesn’t have enough focus to be trusted with the millions of dollars it wants in funding.

“The house is divided. It’s not whole.” said Burke. “How can you build schools if you don’t have your finances in order?”

“It’s more than bricks and mortar; it’s our responsibility,” said Paige.

Meanwhile, RPS school leaders say they want the community’s involvement in figuring out what’s next for Wythe.

In response, 4th District School Board member Jonathan Young criticized the council’s lack of faith in the school board, accusing it of not being responsible enough to handle the city’s needs.

“Is it surprising that the same City Council, unable to address waste in city government and/or lower the highest real estate taxes in the region despite an exponential increase in real estate tax assessments, is so gladly willing to spend tens of millions of dollars unnecessarily on vacant seats in school buildings?” Young asked.

As we prepare for building a new George Wythe HS, family and community engagement will be an essential part of the...

Posted by Richmond Public Schools on Sunday, March 27, 2022

These community meetings will focus on the school’s design and overall objectives - plus whether it will be an art or stem-focused school.

Thirteen other meetings are planned leading up to April 15.

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