RICHMOND, Va. – The years 1985 and 1955 provide insight into the difference between baseball and education in Richmond.
“The Diamond”, completed in 1985 and never fully renovated, is the second oldest baseball stadium used by any AA team. FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania is older because it is being preserved as an historic baseball park. Mayor Jones and other leaders reportedly want to build the Squirrels a new Shockoe Bottom stadium even though the area is home to historically unique events that shaped America. They say the team is unfairly handicapped playing in an obsolete facility and sacrificing some history may be the price of progress.
The approximate final construction date for Richmond’s average K-12 facility is 1955. School buildings experience “rapid deterioration” into functional obsolescence after 40 years according to the Obama Administration. Federal law declares structures 50 years of age sufficiently ancient to be eligible for inclusion in the national historic buildings register. Research by noted Virginia Tech Professor Glen Earthman and other experts found deteriorated K-12 facilities significantly contributed to health and learning problems especially in youngsters from poor families.
A recent state study revealed shockingly poor academic performance by too many Richmond K-12 students. A chagrined Mayor Jones now says he hopes the “School Board will take this as an opportunity to do some radical intervention in the middle schools.”
Mayor Dwight Jones served as Chairman of the Richmond School Board.
Most Richmond elementary school facilities preparing students for middle school were originally built on or long before 1955. Most Middle Schools – Binford in 1914, Hill in 1925, Elkhardt in 1943, Thompson in 1965, and Henderson in 1972 – were built long before The Diamond. 1955 marks the first official proposals by Virginia leaders to enact local laws defying the Supreme Court ruling that “separate but equal” school facilities were inherently unequal.
The above historical analysis thus symbolizes, in a nutshell, the difference between baseball and education in Richmond. City leaders have spent months developing a plan to replace a 1985 stadium in time for the 2015 season opener. To them, it is their “Field of Dreams” as Kevin Costner would say.
We know that as we also know this, while city officials have spent all this time figuring out how to fund the replacement of a 1985 Baseball Stadium, they remain AWOL in developing a plan to modernize schools built on average in 1955 when the new school year opens in 2015. They don’t have one. As a former city council man has said, they lifted their current school building effort from a piece of the “City of the Future” plan developed for Mayor Wilder in 2005.
One of the aspects of that plan was recently praised last month by Governor McDonnell, who said it offered the hope of an historic “construction initiative” that could double as a catalyst for a precedent setting “instruction initiative” providing funding to transform education in a city like Richmond. Senator Tim Kaine, a former Mayor of Richmond, agrees, as do both candidates running for Governor this year, along with Senator Warner and the Virginia Educational Association along with their parent body, the National Education Association.
The financing therefore of the bold plan discussed below is based not only on this proven approach first developed by then Mayor Kaine, but four other specific parts.
(A). A bipartisan effort to eliminate the anti-Richmond glitch in federal law effectively forcing localities to pay 30-40% more for public school modernization projects than profitable private schools. Governor McDonnell, Senators Warner and Kaine, and Congressman Cantor laid out the bipartisan case for stopping a little known IRS “prior use” rule from blocking the Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit – first discussed in 1985 – being used as intended to modernize old school buildings. They laid out their case in a widely praised national article at http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1111/69318.html
A simple one-paragraph fix to federal law would save Richmond $200 million or more in future construction costs eventually required to modernize our school facilities. In turn, this “construction initiative” frees up the funds for the precedent-setting “instruction initiative” the Mayor rightly says is needed. Fixing this glitch would also save Uncle Sam from having to unnecessarily subsidize hundreds of billions in expensive government debt. It’s win-win. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/opinion/13allen.html?_r=0
(B). Over the next decade or so, a big new revenue stream will become available as special tax abatements from prior years start paying real estate taxes. It should eventually add around $19 million annually to Richmond’s budget coffers.
(C). The state auditor says Richmond has the most bloated executive bureaucracy in Virginia. At least $5 million is being wasted now. Unless eliminated, it will reach $7 million annually in roughly a decade.
(D). Over the next decade, old city debt will be paid-off. At least $5 million a year now dedicated to such repayment can be shifted to school modernization.
(E). A recent School facility report indicates a full modernization plan could save $100 million otherwise required to be sunk into maintaining these old buildings as obsolete 20th century structures. This doesn’t include substantial operation savings from modern, energy efficient buildings.
Bottom line: Taken together, A-E together, phased-in properly in conjunction with the city operational and capital budgets, can fund, without raising taxes or reducing services, the following unique 10 Point Middle School Plan that can serve as the first in three steps to transform all of K-12 education in Richmond:
1. FULLY MODERNIZE OUR ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOLS – We have the money.
2. A NEW SCHOOL BOARD ENTITY TO RUN THE MIDDLE SCHOOLS – The State Board of Education and the General Assembly could constitutionally create a new “Richmond Middle School District” to run those schools. Instead of state intervention, the Elected School Board should create a nine member Middle School Committee to run the Middle Schools.
3. ALL MIDDLE SCHOOLERS TO GET ANNUAL HEALTH CHECKUPS – This first-in-the-nation mandate will require state law changes. A parent may choose to allow the school to provide a free check-up on site.
4. SOUND MIND/SOUND BODY MIDDLE SCHOOL REQUIREMENT – The impressive report by the Metropolitan Richmond Sports Backers correctly found “overwhelming research that demonstrates the critical link between physical activity, academic performance and mental well-being.”
5. STUDENT AND TEACHER AUGUST ACADEMY – A private firm will administer an intensive “Improve Your Skills Academy” for both Middle School students and teachers every August. Individual plans will be developed setting achievable yearly goals for students and teachers with appropriate financial incentives.
6. PARENTAL ADVISORY COUNSELORS – Two full-time Parental Advisory Counselors positions will be created for each Middle School to work with PTA officials to improve parental involvement in their child’s education.
7. SATURDAY PARENT/STUDENT WORKSHOPS – A private firm will administer a weekly Saturday morning conference to improve parent and student mutually involvement. Alternatives will be created for those parents who have conflicting commitments.
8. TEACHER SKILL ASSESSMENTS – Local education and business leaders will be asked to provide assistance in fulfilling the work of the August Summer academy.
9. NEW TEACHER RECRUITMENT – The Middle School Committee will recommend a plan to attract the “best and brightest” to become teachers in the Middle Schools.
10. SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM – Building on work already in progress, a scholarship program will be created to encourage parents to enroll their children in our middle schools.
It is vital for Richmond leaders to fully participate in bipartisan efforts to fix the “prior use” glitch. Relying on other programs and promises to fund facility modernization has self-evidentially not worked. A VCU study says using “historic tax credits” could lead to thousands of jobs locally – a million nationally – for combat veterans, skilled workers and young college graduates. These tax credits can also be used to equip schools with modern technology teaching children by day and adult retraining at night.
As Mayor, Tim Kaine used these credits to modernize the dilapidated Maggie Walker High building from a local Richmond school into the home of the regional Governor’s school at huge savings for Richmond. http://m.styleweekly.com/richmond/lessons-from-maggie-walker/Content?oid=1626268
To paraphrase Dr. King, education delayed is education denied, and so much more here in Richmond.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.