by Leah Small
Richmond School Board Chairman Jeff Bourne says that he doesn’t know what to think about the mayor’s call for a public referendum on raising taxes to fund schools.
But he cautions that the city should specify how much tax rates could increase and what cuts could be made to city services if rates stay the same.
“Any question that’s on a referendum has to be one that doesn’t present an incomplete thought or proposition,” Bourne tells Style, the day after the mayor's final State of the City address.
“I think everybody wants more specificity because it would necessarily frame the conversation,” he says. “And I think it’s a great conversation to have.”
Bourne says that it’s important to immediately begin talking about how to tackle the school system’s funding issues.
“As we all know, while money doesn’t solve all problems, it certainly does help fix a lot of the challenges that we face and the money has to come from somewhere,” he says. “So we have to have an honest conversation with everyone around the city like, this is how much it would cost to make the schools what we want.”
Mayor Dwight Jones proposed the referendum during his address last night. He said that he favored posing the question of a tax increase on the November ballot, and would consider the idea with City Council.
“This is very important and the conversation has got to be a conversation that does not just take place at City Hall,” Jones said.
Jones said the city spends more money on education than on any other department, with schools improving only marginally. School officials continue to ask for more funding for operations, and are calling for the start of a roughly $169 million first phase of a 15-year capital improvement plan.
Schools Superintendent Dana Bedden told the Times-Dispatch that a referendum should be specific. He said that the public should be informed about the measures a tax increase would support. He also said that there have been definite increases in the number of accredited schools.