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Richmond City Council votes against funding plan for George Wythe: 'The house is divided'

Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay
Posted at 11:57 PM, Mar 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-28 23:57:58-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Members of the George Wythe community met Monday night at Lucille Brown Middle School to discuss education and future plans for a new high school.

The certainty of a new school building still hangs in the balance, as Richmond city leaders and school board members remain at an impasse. On Monday night, the Richmond City Council rejected a plan to transfer $7.3 million dollars in construction funds to the school division.

Patty and Arthur Horne, who attended the meeting, say the construction of a new school is long overdue. Arthur Horne graduated from Wythe in 1972.

“They need it, they need it,” says Horne. “The children will just feel better because it’s a new facility and will bring some spirit back to the school. It might bring the closeness back.”

During public comment, some school activists expressed outrage over city leaders’ reluctance to release funding.

“To listen to people justify, justify holding up funds for the schools after four months of withholding it, is unbelievable,” exclaimed one parent.

On March 22, the two sides also failed to reach an agreement in a joint meeting, citing differences on how big the school should be and who should maintain control over the procurement and construction process.

While the school board voted last year to take control of the construction of new schools after concerns of wasteful spending, Mayor Levar Stoney maintains support from the city would bolster efforts to build the school at a faster timeline.

Several school board members are rejecting the administration’s plans for a 2,000-seat school, saying 1,600 seats would allow plenty of room for students, while allocating more funding for other school reconstruction projects, including rebuilding Woodville Elementary.

However, city officials say census data indicates that the new George Wythe would be overcrowded at a capacity of just 1,600 students.

While several city leaders expressed the desire to release funding to the school division, many say they fear that school leaders won’t reach a compromise. Concerns were echoed by Dawn Page and Cheryl Burke, the only two school board members to attend Monday’s council meeting.

“I can’t speak for the board, but I can speak for Cheryl Burke and the house is divided,” Burke said.

School leaders, including Jonathan Young and Kenya Gibson both, expressed disappointment over the council’s decision.

"It’s surprising that the same City Council unable to address waste in City government and/or lower the highest real estate taxes in the region despite an exponential increase in real estate tax assessments is so gladly willing to spend tens of millions of dollars unnecessarily on vacant seats in school buildings?” Young said.

Gibson released a statement saying in part, “Tonight, City Council passed on another opportunity to transfer funding allowing us to move forward with designing a new George Wythe. As such, they also passed on supporting democratically governed schools.”

It’s unclear when the council or the school board will take up the matter again.

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