Time to Bring On the Bigger Dogs ...

Short of a reprieve from Governor Bob McDonnell or a last-minute assist from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama, it appears that the City of Richmond's first and only proposed charter school -- The Patrick Henry School for Science and Art (PHSSA) -- is DOA. By the end of the next School Board meeting, it could be all over but the shouting.

Even if the school had all the money it needs to hire a staff, purchase proper educational materials and satisfy the demands of Virginia charter school law, the stalwart group of true believers in the PHSSA appear to be on a collision course with a school system that is perversely using its own flagrant violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act to kill the competition it fears, thus denying hope and change to yet another generation of Richmond schoolchildren.

Sadly, this is nothing new. Ever since the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the City of Richmond School Board has had far more candidates for "Profiles in Cowardice" than for "Profiles in Courage." This ugly tradition, like many others in this former Capitol of the Confederacy and birthplace of Massive Resistance, continues unabated into the 21st-Century.

Having witnessed former Richmond School Board Chairman George Braxton lose his temper and accuse the ADA plaintiffs -- face-to-face -- of being more concerned about improving "crappy" schools than building yet-to-be-funded new schools, I was sure I had seen the most shameful behavior of a Richmond School Board chairman against parents who simply wanted to have their children educated and treated equally in our schools.

That was before I read the recent letter sent by the new chair of the board, Kimberly Bridges, to the members of the PHSSA. The passive-aggressive timing of the letter (seven months from when PHSSA is scheduled to open) and its condescending tone demonstrate disrespect equal to that displayed by Braxton, but made more offensive by a cold and calculating hypocrisy. At least Braxton could blame his outburst on the heat of the moment.

Consider this: January 17th marked the fourth anniversary of the night that the Richmond School Board unanimously approved the terms of a Settlement Agreement in which the board promised, among other things, to use its "best efforts" to satisfy the five-year agreement with the ADA plaintiffs that would (at long last) bring our schools into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. [Historical note: the ADA was passed July 20, 1990, almost 20 years ago.]
 Just how much progress have the "best efforts" of this board achieved since the agreement was signed and U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson ordered RPS to make our schools and playgrounds handicapped accessible?

Precious little. In blunt terms, after four years this board has thus far failed to satisfy even the promises for "Year One."

Worse, in a dizzying display of governmental waste, RPS has spent more than one million dollars simply having "design work" done. A sampling of some of the most outrageous and nonsensical payments include:
  • $29,000 to design a ramp at Overby-Sheppard School;
  • $19,950 to design a ramp at Redd Elementary School;
  • $66,780 to design an accessible bathroom at Chimborazo Elementary School and move the Clinic to the gymnasium;
  • $36,900 to design an accessible bathroom at Ginter Park Elementary School;
  • $19,726.50 to design an accessible bathroom at Armstrong High School;
  • nearly $9,000 per school to do "elevator feasibility studies" at five different schools;
  • $6,500 to design a handicapped parking place at Mary Scott School;
  • to see the complete list, click this link.
This is the same board and administration that spent close to a quarter million dollars fixing up Richmond Community High School, a school that it knew would be closed within a year. There was also that nasty elevator procurement mess for Community that generated plenty of media attention from Chris Dovi at Style Weekly and Zach Reid at The Richmond Times Dispatch, but no indictments. Read lawyer John Butcher's trenchant "O Come All Ye Lawyers" and "Incompetence -- Or Worse?" at his CrankyTaxpayer website for an excellent analysis of what went wrong and engineer Jonathan Mallard's take on the board's inability to construct a coherent RFP, much less an intelligent plan for fixing the schools.

All this is necessary information for one to be able to appreciate the cloying hypocrisy of Bridges' words to the PHSSA, most especially when she expresses the board's "great concern" that it not be placed in a position that would cause it "to violate the consent decree [sic]."

Mind you, I am so relieved to see the board is concerned about obeying the law. By my rough accounting, RPS has received approximately $11.4 million dollars for ADA compliance work since 2006, spent over a million on design, and, save a new elevator at Fox Elementary, taken no significant steps to actually make any school handicapped accessible. What happened to the other $10+ million? Also, no one seems to recall that the board promised to post an online accounting of all monies received for ADA work and how those monies were spent.

Given this situation, an investigation and an audit of the ADA finances appears to be needed.

Meanwhile, I hope the good people who have worked hard to bring the PHSSA into reality will ask the School Board why it waited until now to put into writing concerns that have been discussed since the idea of using the Patrick Henry building for the charter school was first broached.

It is absolutely stupefying how this board could even attempt to claim high moral ground in the PHSSA letter, considering they have repeatedly dealt in bad faith with the ADA plaintiffs and with the court. During closed session discussions prior to signing the contract to lease this building to the PHSSA, I advised my colleagues and RPS administrators to be fully forthcoming concerning the legal requirements to bring the Patrick Henry building into compliance with the ADA. Much to the amusement of those present, the former vice-chair of the board, Lisa Dawson, dismissed my suggestion outright stating that if the charter people "want to play with the big dogs, they need to learn on their own."

Here's hoping the PHSSA folks can find some bigger dogs to help them realize their goal, and to hold the attack hounds of RPS at bay.


  1. Amazing. Does the Mayor really think he will placate the people in this district by building a new Huguenot High School instead of helping the Patrick Henry charter people? Graziano and Jones should know better!

  2. Charter Schools take money awa from public schools. Why should anyone really care that these people don't have it together?

    I agree with you that the schools are run by a bunch of cowards when it comes to the ADA issue. Too bad that they can't all spend a day in a wheelchair. That would teach them a lesson.

  3. it is precisely this incompetency and lack of accountability of the Board and other city officials that has caused me to make a wholesale dismissal of RPS as an option for my children's education. i was educated entirely in RPS and, sadly, will not continue that tradition.

  4. This is so depressing. Maybe Kim Bridges is just a pawn being used by the same administration and legal team that virtually ignored the ADA all these years? Why haven't we heard about this in the other media in this city?

    Still, that does not absolve her or the board from the terrible way they havedealt with the PHSSA. At this rate, charter schools will never come to be in Richmond.


  6. Most of you are "whistling in the wind" about alternatives to RPS. For the past 40 years actions by RPS are about protecting their "turf" and empire building. Fact is that no one wants to put their kids in RPS. Flight from the City is primarily due to lousy schools. Yet any proposed improvement by "outsiders" to the city is ignored. An alternative, such as charter schools, must be squashed since it is a threat to RPS rulers.

    BTW, ADA should never have been enacted since the numbers are too small to force organizations to spend ridiculous sums to comply. Older orgs. should have been "grandfathered" and only new facilities required to comply. But then, American society does not worry about the mainstream or majority of taxpayers anymore.

  7. Anonymous@11:03 --

    When it comes to the ADA, there is no such things as "grandfathering." Further, the lawsuit that was brought against Richmond Public Schools concerns not simply making the buildings comply with the ADA for schoolchildren, but for parents, grandparents, employees and citizens -- all of whom have a right to access public buildings paid for and maintained by tax dollars.

  8. If you've attended the PHSSA (open to the public meeting) or read the transcript from their own board's November presentation to RPS, you'd know that they have renovation plans in place that comply with the ADA and the requirements of the RPS settlement.

    Sadly, the PHSSA folks were burdened by the RPS board with all of the financial responsibility of renovating a building OWNED BY The City of Richmond (!). With no support from RPS or the city government other than lip-service.

    It breaks my heart to think that these hard-working, visionary and passionate people who've worked so hard to bring a real "choice" to the public school system are going to be steamrolled by such hypocrisy.

  9. You may have had the plans, but do you have the money? The building permits? A realistic schedule for making this all happen? It breaks my heart, too. But, what I really don't get is why this problem is just now getting talked about (in a much more public forum than a meeting held at night)?

    Why hasn't PHSSA put out a public plea for help on this? Why hasn't RPS tried to help them? I understand schools on southside are all crowded. If RPS had wanted to help itself, it might have helped PHSSA.

    Oh, wait. I know. RPS is so perfect they don't need help. What a sad mess.

  10. My children's grandfather never attended an awards ceremony, festival, or any school event because he couldn't climb the stairs of the old neighborhood Richmond Public School. To this day, that school fails to meet ADA compliance. RPS hammering on the PHSSA over ADA compliance is hypocrisy!

    Someone should run against Kim Bridges during the next School Board elections.

  11. THis is a mess. The school board never supported this idea of a charter school.

  12. Kim Bridges obviously doesn't care. She pushed the so-called "open enrollment" plan that only works if you happen to white (she is) and live in the West End (she does).

    RPS administrators lie to the School Board with impunity and the board lets them get away with it. They promised middle school reform and that hasn't happened. They promised ADA compliance and that hasn't happened. They promised (by signing a contract) that they would work with the Patrick Henry Charter School and that hasn't happened.

    This is not only a "Know Nothing," board but it is also a "Do Nothing" board that should be replaced. Until we can get these fools out, I am going to hope that Carol Wolf continues to expose these fools for what they are.

  13. The Washington Post has taken notice http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2010/01/strangling_another_charter_sch.html#comments

  14. Maybe, just maybe, the people on the School Board are so politically tone deaf that they do not realize they are being used as tools of an entrenched RPS administration?

    When will one of them have the courage to ask just why it is that if all the administrators are THE EXPERTS that they claim to be -- Richmond Schools are so sub-par?

    Were it not for the school they send the "bad" kids to and the way they steal Governor's School kids' SOL scores, the only two high schools that would be accredited are Open and Community.

    I hope Gov. McDonnell tears them up for the way they have MISHANDLED PHSSA and the way they continue to steal money from the kids with disabilities. Keep it up, Wolf! Bridges and Bran don deserve all the heat you can send their way!

  15. I am a supporter of the PHSSA but my bigger priority is ADA compliance. RPS is moving slow but they are moving forward with ADA. it is frustrating and at time shocking at how the system works but the folks who brought on the lawsuit are still active in the process. When the whole thing started my children were in 2nd grade....at this rate of ADA remediation by kids will have graduated from high school before the 5 YEAR SETTLEMENT is complete. There lies my frustration!

    Good luck to the PHSSA folks, I wish they had never agreed in their contract that they would make the blding ADA compliant. It sould have always been the responsibility of RPS.

  16. I am a supporter of the PHSSA, but my bigger priority is ADA compliance. RPS is moving slowly, but they are moving forward with ADA.

    It is frustrating -- and at times shocking --at how the system works, but the folks who brought on the lawsuit are still active in the process. When the whole thing started my children were in 2nd grade....at this rate of ADA remediation my kids will have graduated from high school before the 5-YEAR-SETTLEMENT is complete. There lies my frustration!

    Good luck to the PHSSA folks, I wish they had never agreed in their contract that they would make the building ADA compliant. It should have always been the responsibility of RPS.


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