Schools close, jobs lost in new RPS budget By Geoffrey A.

Cooper City residents caught a glimpse of how the impending cuts to the Richmond Public Schools budget will impact services next year, during a community meeting Thursday evening. State lawmakers and members of the Richmond City Council and Public School Board were on hand at George Wythe High School to share with District 5 residents elements of the $246.5 million spending plan. Seventeen residents sat with public officials inside the school’s library inquiring whether the various cuts would have drastic effects on classrooms throughout the city. The school board – seven of the nine members were elected last fall – adopted its $246.5 million budget Wednesday after several weeks of work sessions and community meetings. Getting to that total wasn’t easy, because staring at them was an estimated $11.6 million funding gap – $3.4 million loss in revenue and $8.1 million increase in expenses. RPS Chief Operating Officer Andy Hawkins said the new school board faced a “daunting task” finding appropriate cuts in such a short timeframe. “They were elected in November … they were sworn in January … the very first thing they had to do was tackle this massive budget,” Hawkins said. “They certainly should’ve had time to get their first wet, be there six months, understand what was going on, get to know how things work. “For them to all be able to comprehend all of that and make these tough decisions in a short period of time is amazing,” he said. The biggest budget cuts include: $1.8 million reduction out of employee insurance; two schools closing – $1 million; contract reductions – $3 million; and loss of some administrators – $4.2 million. “At the end of the day, the school board exceeded it’s goal,” Hawkins said. “The school board had to cut $11.6 million, but was able to find around $11.8 million in cuts instead. … This is just the first step in it’s process.” The spending plan starts July 1, but not before getting approval from the Richmond City Council. The council will get its crack at the RPS budget once Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones introduces the city’s budget later this spring. City Councilman Parker Agelasto, District 5, said he was pleased the school board found reasonable cuts that would lessen impact on classrooms and services. Due to struggling economy, the cash-strapped school district has lost over $80 million in the last five years, Hawkins said, adding that resources trimmed down to the bare minimum everywhere.

Next year, dozens of administrative positions are gone – none that will effect student teacher ratios, teacher aides, teacher positions. The prior school board went through a year-long rezoning process, which resulted in recommendations to close John B. Cary Elementary, Bellevue Elementary, and either Fisher or Southampton Elementary Schools. The didn’t close those schools, but Hawkins said that’s going to be an ongoing conversation in the next 30 to 45 days. Fifth district resident Gregory Day recommended RPS try zero-based budgeting for the next fiscal year budget, looking at each line item to determine which services are more needed than others. “It could be something they’re not offering anymore that’s not worthwhile, but they still got it in the budget. We don’t know if it’s worthwhile,” Day said. Hawkins said zero-based budgeting was impossible for the 13-14 FY budget because it takes a great amount of time. He said he’s open to the idea in 2014. ” It’s not like we have luxuries laying around here at RPS. But I’m willing to go through the process. We don’t have anything to hide. “If it’s going to make you, the take payers, and members of our school board confident and sure about what we have, it’s a worthwhile process,” Hawkins said. Hawkins also pointed out the inaccuracies without the state’s Local Composite Index, which determines how much the state will fund for education and the amount expected from localities. Hawkins said RPS is the richest school system from the far western part of the state to the southern tip, surpassing Henrico and Chesterfield public school systems. He said the LCI is flawed and that he hopes the Virginia General Assembly could study how to overhaul the formula. “If RPS’s composite index number were to change just one, two, or five points, we wouldn’t be here worrying about $11 million,” Hawkins said.

Richmond Public Schools’ Chief Operating Officer Andy Hawkins discuss with the crowd elements of the School Board‘s $246.5 million budget for FY 2013-14 inside the library of George Wythe High School. (Geoffrey cooper/VCU)

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful