Task force trying to close Richmond School District’s budget gap

Posted at 12:53 PM, Mar 12, 2012
and last updated 2012-03-12 12:53:11-04

“It is frustrating.”  That was the theme after this morning’s meeting of Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones’ Schools Accountability and Efficiency Review Task Force.

Mayor Jones established this team of government, business and school administration specialists to try and close the $24-million dollar gap in the school district’s budget without raising the real estate tax.  Leading the team is former Virginia Secretary of Education James W. Dyke, Jr.

“You wish you had more money to get things done,” said Dyke, “especially since you’re talking about kids. But the reality is we don’t have all the money available that we’d like to have.”

A number of factors impact the fiscal year 2013 budget shortfall.  None may be bigger than the spending increases proposed in Gov. Bob McDonnell’s state budget.  Higher pension investments in the Virginia Retirement System, health insurance rate increases, and teacher salary bonuses alone bring a deficit of over $10-million dollars.  That’s despite an increase in state wide funding for education.

Richmond School Board proposed cuts to teacher pay, increased class sizes and other cuts could keep good teachers away from Richmond.  Vice Chairman Maurice Henderson says good teachers can change the lives of children.  He’s proof of that.  “I had a teacher who taught me math as a part time project of his.  It helped me from not excelling in math to excelling.  Those are the things that make it possible to leave that corner and kids become doctors and engineers.”

Members of Richmond City Council say they’re dedicated to helping the school board find solutions to their problems, but council president Kathy Graziano says cuts could be coming and they may be deep.  “We have dedicated teachers, dedicated school board, dedicated tax payers who, in this economy, can’t afford to have their taxes raised.”

Graziano is one of those on the task force who’ll tell you state budget increases have a lot to do with the school board’s problems.  Solutions will have to be found over the group’s next five meetings stretching into the end of this month.