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New City Council, Mayor and School Board Gather for First Joint Meeting


City Council president Chris Hilbert, Mayor Levar Stoney, School Board chairperson Dawn Page and councilor Andreas Addison at a joint education compact meeting at the Library of Virginia on Monday afternoon. - JACKIE KRUSZEWSKI
  • Jackie Kruszewski
  • City Council president Chris Hilbert, Mayor Levar Stoney, School Board chairperson Dawn Page and councilor Andreas Addison at a joint education compact meeting at the Library of Virginia on Monday afternoon.

Richmond's fearless, elected leaders met on Monday to issue statements of support for their decision to meet up — among other things.

"Today is not about politics. It is solely about children," said Mayor Levar Stoney. "And I think it’s about, as well, how we can create a positive outcome for our children."

The joint meeting was the first since elections created an entirely new School Board, brought in half of a new City Council and established a new mayor. The last joint meeting of all bodies was in March of 2016.

The bodies met Monday afternoon to discuss the Education Compact, a document meant to institutionalize collaboration of this sort and set shared goals for funding and student achievement. The compact was a key element of Stoney's campaign. There was also a desire to quell fears of some education advocates, who have expressed concerns about privatization or the potential for charter schools.

Stoney reiterated it was not about those things. "It’s not about mission creep either," he said, referring to concerns about the division of powers between the bodies.

Thad Williamson, the mayor's point person on the compact, gave a brief presentation on the compact, which they have revised since a series of community meetings. The document sets up quarterly joint meetings like Monday's, a "children's cabinet" of city employees whose work impacts kids and monthly meetings of an "education compact team" — with two members from each elected body, representatives from the mayor's office, educators, parents and other stakeholders.

Then, each of the 16 leaders gave a statement — all supportive of the collaborative purpose of the compact. Some also echoed concerns of the education advocates.

Councilor Parker Agelasto tasked the group with a transparent process and firm guidelines for how members of the compact team would be chosen. He asked for diverse representation and good community engagement.

Some at the table noted the conspicuous absence of a school superintendent. Dana Bedden was abruptly fired earlier this year, and Chief Operating Officer Thomas Kranz takes over as interim superintendent on July 1.

"The most glaring thing that’s missing from this room is the superintendent," said Councilor Kim Gray. "That's the most important decision a School Board makes is selecting a leader and letting that individual set the stage and the tone and the culture for how to move the district forward."

Others suggested the compact's collaborative processes would help attract a top-notch candidate to the position and that there were elements of the compact that could progress without him or her.

"It is not either/or at this point, given the magnitude of the challenges before us," said Councilor Cynthia Newbille. "It's a both/and."

Also missing from the table were councilors Ellen Robertson and Reva Trammell and school board member Nadine Marsh-Carter.

About 75 community members and administrators also attended the meeting at the Library of Virginia.

Keri Treadway of Support Richmond Public Schools said afterward that she and other education advocates were excited for the Children's Cabinet and the regular quarterly meetings.

"And we're happy to hear some of our concerns addressed about charter schools and privatization," she said. Treadway wanted that disavowal codified into the compact. And she wants the superintendent's attendance at the quarterly meetings.

She echoed Agelasto's concerns about how the stakeholders on the "education compact team" would be chosen and wanted the team to have three members of each elected body, in order to trigger certain open government laws.

The biggest concern of some education advocates, Treadway said, is that academic metrics would be put in place before a new superintendent was hired. "We're not going to attract an innovative leader if we say, 'here's the academic metric, now go do that,'" she said.

Former Mayor Dwight Jones, the School Board and City Council met twice in late 2015 and early 2016. After Monday's meeting, Councilor Kristen Larson, who previously served on the School Board, noted how much more friendly this meeting was.

And, she said, Mayor Stoney and his staff stayed for the entire time, unlike the Jones-era meetings.

"In joint meetings we had before, sometimes it would be someone giving a presentation, talking at whomever — death by powerpoint sort of thing," she said.

Larson stressed transparency for any future compact meetings. "When people don't know what's going on, they assume the worst," she said.

Ultimately, Monday's meeting served as a chance to express support for the process of collaboration and reiterate everyone's commitment to children. Many sleeves will be rolled up.

At least one formal action was taken: Council President Chris Hilbert said he would waive parking restrictions around City Hall during compact meetings to facilitate attendance.

"When you get 19 elected folks in a room, a lot of things can happen," said Larson in her comments.

“Or not," joked Stoney.

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