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Discussion over George Wythe plans leaves leaders walking out of meeting

Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay
Posted at 11:45 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 23:45:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Tensions ran high between different Richmond leaders Tuesday night. It all came over re-building schools, specifically George Wythe High School.

Many Richmond leaders said they left the joint council and school board meeting frustrated. The meeting featured two hours of debate of numbers, resources and questions of what is holding up the rebuilding process.

The meeting itself officially wrapped after several members got up and started walking out when school board member Stephaine Rizzi was making her second point.

Rizzi stopped what she was saying, asking members if they were really getting up while she was talking.

They replied with a simple yes.

The exit happened after two hours of back and forth regarding the rebuilding of George Wythe.

Amid the chaos, Cynthia Newbille, the council president, spoke to the members, reminding everyone that they needed to be respectful of the speaker.

“We all had the opportunity to speak. We all sat and listened,” Newbille said.

In Richmond, the school board has the final say on how schools are built. However, it is the city council that allocates and releases the funding. On Monday, the council will vote on the paper to forward funding to schools.

“This evening, it is, therefore, critical to have an opportunity for further discussion on some of the questions that have consistently come up to us,” said Newbille.

Newbille said the three main questions they received were about the school capacity, timeline for construction and collaboration between city leaders. The majority of the meeting council and the board went back and forth on capacity.

School board members said that George Wythe currently has fewer than 1,300 students.

There was debate over whether the rebuilt school should hold 1,600 students, like the outsourced firm suggested, or 2,000 to accommodate census growth. Members were unable to agree upon what numbers to use as reference points.

“At $410 per square foot, which seems to be the consensus and the market right now, that’s $16.4 million. That’s what this discussion is about,” said school board member Jonathan Young.

Stephanie Lynch with the city council noted that population growth is inevitable. She focused on saying that it's important to have a school big enough so what is currently happening at Wythe doesn’t have to happen here.

School board member Mariah White asked to see those numbers, saying she felt everyone said the population kept growing but hadn’t heard concrete numbers.

School board member Nicole Jones said the city is growing and she feels they are not accounting for that.

“We need to make sure our young people get what we need,” Jones said.

City council members and school board members then spent time going back and forth about the process taking so long.

“This has been going on entirely too long and I pray that all nine board members and city council can work together and invest in our children's future,” said Dawn Page with the School Board.

Kenya Gibson with the school board said that all they need at this point is for the council to transfer funds that have already been allocated to school construction

Reva Trammell with City Council said she wants to see them as a group gets something accomplished.

“We want what you all want,” she said

No decision came from the meeting Tuesday night or how to really move forward.

The city council will vote on Monday whether they will go ahead and transfer funds to the school board. School leaders were also supposed to discuss repairing Fox Elementary after last month's fire but never got around to it.

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