The Richmond City Council vote to potentially close eight public schools in light of an $18 million budget shortfall has been delayed to April 25 due to city-wide protest and school walk-outs.
City Council issued budget amendments, varying from $5 million to $18 million, to increase funding for Richmond Public Schools.
The proposed closure caused concerned parents, teachers and students to protest the April 11 City Council meeting. The protest included student walkouts from local high schools, which ended outside City Hall and overflowed the meeting’s auxiliary rooms during the public comment section.
“If I had more money, I’d be willing to give it to them, But the money simply doesn’t exist,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones said during an April 15 press conference.
Jones said city services would be cut if the council approved the budget increase. In January, Jones recommended citizens vote in a referendum to decide how to pay for the Richmond Public School district.
“We are in a budget crisis so we have to explore all options, so unfortunately you have to look at school closures as a cost saving measure,” said 4th school district Kristen Larson. “(But it’s like) implementing facility closures and consolidations with a hatchet rather than a scalpel.”
Larson said a task force selected the schools for potential closure based on an 18-month study conducted by community and school board members and industry experts.
“The facilities task force made their recommendation based on growth data that spans over the next 10 years,” Larson said. “Recommendations were made to the school board, and the school board adopted a plan to consolidate old schools and build new schools.”
Larson said the city needs to shift those resources into areas like the Southeast side of Richmond, where there is the most projected growth over the next decade.
Chad Ingold is a mayoral candidate and teacher at Open High School in Oregon Hill. Ingold’s school was one of the high schools responsible for organizing the city-wide protest.
Ingold said the school closures will have a disproportionate effect on the City of Richmond because the public school system is disproportionately attended by African American youth.
Some of the student protestors emphasized statistics, such as 75 percent of RPS students are African American and 75 percent utilize the free or reduced lunch program.
“In regard to school segregation — separate but unequal is still the name of the game,” Ingold said. “Political and personal conflicts within city government are being played out, and have historically been played out, with schools, jobs, and the future of the children of our City as pawn pieces in that game.”
According to Ingold, the problems within the school system were confounded by the process of white families leaving the public school system for years due to lacking resources.
“Education in the city of Richmond for the past several decades has disproportionately affected African American communities in the city of Richmond, and oftentimes, actually benefitted the white citizens of that same city.” Ingold said.
Ingold said that people measuring the effect of white flight don’t take into account the private schools in Richmond’s West End.
“There is a large percentage of the population of the children of the city of Richmond who do not attend public schools, yet do attend school within the city,” Ingold said. “The West End of the city contains many private schools that were created at a time when many supporters of school segregation were looking for ways to maintain the status quo.”