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Stoney responds to board member unhappy over George Wythe: 'That's extremist talk'

Community calls on city, school board to build a new George Wythe High School without delay
Posted at 6:30 PM, Mar 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-29 19:27:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- While the Richmond City Council and the Richmond School Board agree that George Wythe students need a new school, they can't seem to find common ground on how that school will be built.

"George Wythe means the most to me. It's the heart of Southside. Let's take politics out of it," Christopher Woody said.

Woody graduated from George Wythe in 2003 and said that his alma mater is in desperate need of renovations.

"Nothing's changed. I've been in there quite a few times. Nothing's changed. Wythe is still the same," Woody said.

In a Monday night meeting, plans to begin the process of designing a new Wythe stalled yet again. The city council failed to pass a measure that would transfer more than $7 million to the school board.

While four council members voted in support of transferring the funds, three abstained and two were absent.

"It's really just a matter of moving it from one bucket into another," Kenya Gibson, the vice-chair for Richmond's school board, said. "It's just really an administrative matter. It shouldn't be a controversial vote."

Gibson said the board has been asking for that money, which is allocated to school construction, for several months so they can get started on designing a new George Wythe.

However, a majority of council members have said they're not confident in the board's plans to build a George Wythe for 1,600 students. The mayor and most council members have been advocating for a building that fits 2,000 students, citing a growing population on the Southside.

"The delay is in the hands of city council. They're the ones who have held up this transfer of funds," Gibson said. "So the question is why?"

Gibson said the board can save taxpayer dollars by building a smaller George Wythe and using those funds to repair other city schools, such as Woodville Elementary.

She alleged the city's continued delay in transferring funds is 'greedy' and not supportive of democratically governed schools.

"That's extremist talk. I ain't got time for it," Mayor Levar Stoney said, denouncing Gibson's statements. "Let's be adults."

The mayor alluded to the fact that the school board has been divided in many of its 5-4 votes regarding Wythe, with the majority typically siding against the city's recommendations.

"There are certain individuals who are willing to have these conversations, and there are certain individuals who aren't willing to have these conversations," he said.

Mayor Stoney said he trusts that council has been fulfilling its responsibility to taxpayers by asking the board for proof to support its claims before handing over the money.

"Moving forward, it's my hope that the adults who sit on the school board are willing to get around the table and actually talk about a real compromise," Stoney said.

The mayor referred to a compromise suggested by Council President Cynthia Newbille about a Wythe that fits 1,800 students.

CBS 6 asked Mayor Stoney if he believed a majority of city council would only approve transferring the funds to the school board once the board agrees to the compromise.

"I'm optimistic that the dollars will one day land in the account so we can get this process going," Stoney responded. "But the school board has to do what we ask our kids to do. They have to show their work."

Gibson maintained that the board has already presented the city with data and information supporting their ideas on multiple occasions.

CBS 6 also asked Gibson if the school board would consider the city's suggested compromise.

"Sure, we can have that discussion, but the city is pushing for us to use this construction management at risk process," she responded. "And that is a construction method that makes it less competitive, and the contractor is able to kind of set a very high price that gives the contractor lots of wiggle room to build these projects."

Gibson said the school board is set to meet again in April.

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