Richmond teachers, parents and schoolchildren gathered on the steps of City Hall in 37-degree weather to call for teacher raises, improvements to dilapidated buildings and action on other educational needs.
Gloved hands grasped signs that read “support our schools,” and voices rose in cheers while drivers on Board Street honked in encouragement.
Raises and school building improvements were line items in the $293 million budget proposed by the school board last week. The budget, which has yet to receive final approval from the city, includes $5.3 million for a two-year plan to increase pay for teachers.
The board also has asked the city for $18 million that was set aside for the district last year, which would be used to fund a $19 million emergency measure to address overcrowding in schools. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a $169 million first phase of a 15-year plan to overhaul school facilities.
Matt Ference, a science teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, says that new facilities are one of the division’s most dire needs.
Ference was one of a few MLK Middle teachers who held up signs with sketches by the school’s art students. The educators got free rides from class on a trolley driven by Ron Roan of Richmond Trolley.
Ference said that he wants students attending schools that are decades old to know what it’s like to be educated in a fully functional building. A new MLK Middle was constructed in October 2012.
“It gives [students] motivation because it seems like the city cares,” Ference said. “Having that money in facilities is concrete proof that they are valued.”
David Hudson, principal of Linwood Holton Elementary, says he came out to take a stand in favor of teacher raises.
“I have incredible teachers or I wouldn’t be out here,” he said. “My teachers even take ownership of making sure that kids who don’t have coats get them.”
Richmond School Board Chairman Jeff Bourne said that he was glad to see students on the steps alongside parents and teachers.
“I love the fact that we have so many people coming out to rally for additional investment in Richmond Public Schools,” he said. “It’s humbling and inspiring.”