Will school board delay timeline for Fox, Wythe construction?

Mayor Stoney releases letter addressing future of Fox Elementary, George Wythe
Posted at 8:58 PM, Mar 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-20 21:11:50-04

RICHMOND, Va -- Parents are expressing concern about a potential delay in the timelines for construction on William Fox Elementary School and George Wythe High School ahead of a joint meeting between city council and the school board to discuss the matter.

Becca DuVal and Tisha Erby are both mothers with children enrolled in Richmond Public Schools. While they live on different ends of the James River, they share the same pain: their kids are in need of new schools.

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George Wythe High School

"Wythe and Fox are stuck in the same place," DuVal said. "If we care about these kids, if we are a district that puts their needs first, we are not going to push their schools to the breaking point."

DuVal's children go to Fox Elementary which was destroyed by a fire in February. Since then, the CBS 6 Problem Solvers uncovered the school did not have a properly working fire alarm panel. Erby has four kids on track to attend Wythe High which is set to be rebuilt due to damages and maintenance issues.

“As a parent, it hurts me too because I have to send my kids there," Erby said.

Erby, a Wythe alumna, explained her rising ninth grader doesn't want to go to Wythe as a high schooler, citing problems with mold and rat feces inside the building.

“I want my kids to have a great education and a fun experience," Erby said. "I look back at my memories and all the things I used to do at George Wythe. That's history. That's the memory.”

Becca DuVal and Tisha Erby
Becca DuVal and Tisha Erby

She's been advocating for Wythe ever since the mayor announced plans for new construction in late 2020. However, a year and a half later, there's been no action due to an ongoing battle between the mayor and the school board.

The board adopted a policy in 2021 that takes control over construction of new schools from the city and gives it back to the school board.

A majority of board members also disagree with the city about how big the new Wythe should be. While the mayor suggests a school that can fit 2,000 students, the board wants to build a school for 1,600.

Tuesday night, the board will meet with council about an ordinance that would transfer more than $7 million for the design and construction of Wythe to the school board. The city has withheld the money for several months after the board asked for it in October 2021. The mayor said the funds haven't been released because the board has not answered questions about how the money would be used.

During the meeting, they'll also review estimated construction timelines for Fox and Wythe.

Mayor Stoney

According to the mayor's office, if the school board works with the city and utilizes the city's resources, both projects would be completed sooner than if the board solely handled the projects.

The mayor's administration estimates Wythe could be completed as early as July 2025 and Fox could be completed by July 2024.

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"The city has extended an olive branch to collaborate with the school board many times, and that has not happened," said School Board Member, Dawn Page.

Page is pushing her colleagues on the school board to compromise with the city. She said an unwillingness to collaborate has "undoubtedly" pushed back the timeline for Wythe and could impact the timeline for Fox.

"You can't accomplish anything if you're not willing to work together," Page said. "At this point, I don't feel like we are accomplishing anything."

Page said she has heard from countless parents who are unsatisfied with a perceived lack of urgency to get the ball rolling on Wythe, and she doesn't believe a majority of school board members are representing their constituents.

"I'm at a loss for words," Page said. "We're not fulfilling our responsibilities of the oath that we took when we were elected."

Richmond School Board
Richmond School Board

However, other members of the board point to a report from the city's auditor released in 2020 that shows the city spent more taxpayer dollars to build new elementary schools in 2018 and 2019 than the statewide average and Chesterfield County.

Documents show the statewide average at the time was $283.22 per square foot while Richmond spent $324.28.

"The taxpayers got hosed," said school board member, Jonathan Young.

However, some parents question their representatives' priorities.

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George Wythe High School

“Do we value taxpayer dollars and doing our due diligence to the taxpayer," said DuVal. "Or do we value the kids and making sure their schools are safe?"

Erby echoed a similar message for a majority of the board.

“We came to you more than once crying and concerned," she said. "Listen to us.”

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