- Jackie Kruszewski
- Interim Superintendent Thomas Kranz addresses the Richmond School Board on Monday, July 17, about a memorandum of understanding with the state board of education.
The state is making plans to babysit Richmond’s school district for the next decade, and the School Board moved a little closer to finalizing that relationship this week.
“The thing that the state has stressed to us, is No. 1, they didn’t believe the district treated our current status as seriously as we needed to,” said interim Superintendent Thomas Kranz.
On Monday, Kranz presented an updated version of the memorandum of understanding that the board and the Virginia Board of Education are entering into. He called it a collaborative document but noted later that, if Richmond Public Schools fails to comply, it risks losing $30 million in state funding.
The memorandum’s purpose is to create a “corrective action plan,” he said, that will remain in place until all schools are fully accredited. The plan would set benchmarks and require a number of meetings between the state education office and Richmond’s school system.
The state removed some language at the request of the board regarding the hiring and firing of personnel, as well as how local funds are spent. However, the state would approve the expenditures of state and federal grants. And the Richmond School Board would have to provide names and information about the top three permanent superintendent candidates to the Virginia Board of Education president five days before making an offer.
“They’re giving you the freedom to be as creative as you possibly want, but the state will look for an individual who can get Richmond turned around,” Kranz said.
There’s also more professional development in store for the board, the superintendent and Richmond Public Schools staff. The state, Kranz said, feels that the professional development it offers is not being taken seriously, as attendance has been low. “That is an emphasis that they are making to us, and there will be no leeway for people to miss it,” he said.
If all schools are not accredited by 2026, a nonvoting member will be placed on the Richmond School Board.
Board member reaction was mixed about the revisions to the document. Jonathan Young was concerned about limitations to the superintendent search. Scott Barlow called the memorandum a partnership to drive schools to full accreditation.
“It’s easy for people to take a look at the document at first and get a little nervous
about some the language that we had seen early on,” he said. “But I’m very encouraged by the fact that the state has already given feedback about making this document look more like a partnership.” He encouraged his colleagues to give statements to the state board in hopes of finding a balance between oversight and autonomy.
Kranz said the district’s challenges in attracting and retaining qualified teachers triggered concern, as well as a the quality of RPS's buildings.
“What we have to do is take the dollars we get from both federal and state and find a way to maximize that return on investment," Kranz said.
At least one member of the public was not a fan of this memorandum. Third district resident Jessee Perry said that this was far more restrictive than other such agreements she had read.
“The degree of oversight removes power from the local board,” she said. “The reason you have authority is because the people granted it to you. ... We trust you to protect that power.”
Perry did not think the memorandum was written to reflect collaborative intent.
The School Board ultimately voted to send back a version with suggested changes along with a cover letter highlighting the spirit of those changes. Chairwoman Dawn Page and members Felicia Cosby and Patrick Sapini voted ‘no’ on the edits and letter.
The state board of education will vote on a revised memorandum on July 27.
Kranz also updated the board on the need to fill 163 vacant positions before the new school year, and the board discussed plans for George Mason Elementary School. Earlier this year, teachers protested its conditions.
Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services David Myer led a discussion about eliminating the internal audit functions of the school system and laid out a timeline for budget process in fiscal year 2019, which begins July 1, 2018.
“I hope this discussion will be fun,” he said. “It will certainly be different than it was last year.”