RICHMOND, Va. -- As members of the Richmond Public Schools' maintenance staff work furiously alongside community volunteers to revamp dilapidated school bathrooms for the new Superintendent's bathroom blitz, the school system and the city make a surprising discovery: more than 4 million dollars that can be used for school maintenance for this school year.
"Our maintenance budget is confusing. I'm the first one to admit it," RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras said
"What we did is sit down with the mayor's team to reconcile our books because we track things differently which causes a lot of confusion."
Superintendent Jason Kamras says the funds accumulated before his tenure, and he said some differences between the way the city and school system do business led to the discrepancy.
"Look, I don't know what happened before I got here. I'm focused on the future, and focused on collaborating with the city I think in the past there was a lot of acrimony," Kamras said.
The former math teacher said he's trying to clean up the process to make sure this doesn't happen again, and every penny allocated by the city to RPS goes into the schools ASAP.
"What we did is created a standardized way to track everything and follow everything," Kamras said.
The discovery comes on the heels of a controversial 1.5 percent increase to the city's meals tax to fund schools, which leaves some wondering if the tax increase was actually necessary.
But, school Board member Liz Doerr said the meals tax money will go toward building new schools, and the newly discovered dollars will fund maintenance needs for the coming school year.
"Those are two different issues, the reality of the matter is that we have at least a half a billion dollar need for our school facilities," Doerr said.
She said she can understand why the public might not necessarily trust the process when it might seem like the school system can't keep track of its funds, but she said the new school board and superintendent are doing everything they can to reinstate public confidence in RPS..
"I know on the school board side we just commissioned a school board audit which I believe will be released soon. We have reinstated our finance committee of which I am the chair of to make sure we are holding the superintendent and his team accountable, and we have reinstated the auditor position, which was previously eliminated under the prior board," Doerr said.
RPS is still asking for volunteers for its bathroom blitz - and Superintendent Kamras said they still need at least 450 million additional dollars to renovate and rebuild the schools that need to be fixed.