by Leah Small
City leaders haven’t figured out how to pay for their $169 million plan to fix the city’s crowded and crumbling schools. But a former Richmond teacher has pulled together an advocacy group to start offering suggestions.
Garet Prior, a senior planner for Ashland, served on the Richmond Public Schools facilities task force that studied maintenance needs in 2014. He also taught at Lee-Davis High School in Mechanicsville for five years.
A 15-year plan grew from that effort, which school officials say could cost $563 million. The price tag on the first, five-year phase of the plan is $169 million.
Budget talks are beginning between the city and schools about how to pay for the massive list of needs. Mayor Dwight Jones’ administration says it’s against tax increases as a funding source. And without tax increases, schools may have to get in line behind other capital needs, because Richmond has a debt capacity of only $50 million.
Prior says his grass-roots group of parents, service providers and others called Richmond Forward, could help.
“I really believe in the power of engagement and inclusion and a good planning process,” Prior says. “Maybe there is work we can do reaching out to state, local and private individuals to draw up plans for local officials to adopt.”
He says Richmond Forward wants to have solid ideas for how to pay for the first phase of funding by the spring.
But progress can’t be made unless changing the state of Richmond’s public schools is a high priority, Prior says, noting that Jones’ administration seemed to have put schools on the back burner.
He refers to a recent comment from Jones’ press secretary, Tammy Hawley, that the school system serves only 11 percent of Richmond’s population.
That isn’t in line with the mayor’s anti-poverty agenda, Prior says. In 2014, Jones started the office of Community and Wealth Building to tackle the city’s economic disparities.
“It’s a ridiculous comment. I’m a little conflicted because I really like what the mayor has done with his anti-poverty plan, but at the same time making the comment,” he says. “You are kind of making the comment that [families with children in public schools] have less bargaining power.”
Information on Richmond Forward and a schedule of community meetings on the plan to be held by the school division, is at RichmondForward.com.