Proposal to close five Richmond schools over budget concerns fails

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 11:12 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A proposed budget amendment that would have consolidated five Richmond schools over budget concerns failed to move forward Wednesday night.

The amendment introduced by 4th district school board member Jonathan Young could have closed five schools due to low enrollment and, in turn, would save the division $5 million.

“Students currently enrolled in said schools, identified for closure, would be afforded a priority status to attend any RPS school of their choice contingent on their capacity to include transportation,” Young said.

The change would have impacted around 1,700 students from Woodville, Swansboro, Fairfield Court Elementary, Henderson Middle and John Marshall High School.

The school board is currently looking at a price tag of $228 million to operate the division next year, an increase of about $35 million from its previous year.

However, other board members spoke out against the plan to save money during the budget work session.

“I do not support any school closures,” 3rd district school board member Kenya Gibson said. “This is a school district that benefits from small community schools, and we do not have a population that is able to thrive when our schools are crowded, which is why we engaged in a long conversation about River City Middle not long ago.”

Board members also said they had heard from many parents over the last few days who had concerns about where their child would go to school next year.

“Let me apologize as a part of this body for any stress that you incurred as a result of this,” school board chair, Stephanie Rizzie, said. “This is in no way represented by the board it was the proposal of one of our members.”

The Richmond NAACP also spoke out against the amendment, questioning the equity in closing schools in predominantly African American neighborhoods.

It also suggested rather than close those schools, the division should build on top of it.

“My proposal is really the equity commission on steroids. It’s the gold standard pertinent to equity specifically. We would prioritize students at a school subject to closure and afford them access to the school of their choice,” Young said.

The proposed budget amendment did not move forward, but Young said there would need to be a discussion later down the road.

“At some point, folks, despite their reticence, will have to own the fact that what we’re doing isn’t working one and two, there’s a better way to identify where students will attend school than for a group of nine politicians to tell them where to go to school,” Young said.