Maybe the School Board blew it. Maybe instead of saying they wanted to "close" Clark Springs School, they should have said they wanted to "give" Clark Springs a new building -- the John B. Cary School building, a much better facility that comes with far superior academic and athletic facilities and is adjacent to Byrd Park, instead of Hollywood Cemetery.
Maybe they should have said they wanted to combine the 311 students who attend Clark Springs with the 199 students who attend John B. Cary and pointed out that the two schools are only 1.1 miles apart.
Maybe they should have emphasized that the prior 2008-2012 school board had already rezoned Clark Springs and that they were just trying to clean up some of the considerable mess the past board left behind. And they definitely should have said upfront that they knew they needed to get a new principal for John B. Cary, one with better leadership skills who could work with the board to increase enrollment instead of inspiring a steady decrease in it.
And maybe they should have emphasized that they knew the presence of the Clark Springs families, students and faculty would help invigorate a school that was at one time one of the most popular powerhouse elementary schools in the city.
Had they done it this way -- and left this particular rezoning question for next year -- they would have given themselves time to verify any and all data they receive from RPS administrators, a practice that is a necessity given the RPS proclivity for cooking the books and outright lying about numbers.
Had they communicated this, they might have managed to avoid the pummeling they received at the public hearing last Tuesday night at Thomas Jefferson High School when various speakers accused the board rushing the decision and some even went so far as to suggest this action is racially motivated.
To be sure, race is involved given that this is Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy and the birthplace of Massive Resistance. This city's slow stroll into the future and any substantive and sustained improvement of our public schools have always been impeded by the knee-jerk racial politics and backwards politicians who have used race to divide and manipulate our community.
There are some unholy alliances at play here – from RPS administrators delivering bad data, to university professors skewing data to serve their purposes, to community activists race-baiting on one part of the plan and conveniently forgetting to say thank–you for the board’s effort to close Norrell School.
But please understand this -- this effort to close schools is not racially motivated. However, as with all decisions in this city, there are racial and socio-economic consequences -- intended and unintended -- that need deep and honest discussion.
The accusation that this school board -- comprised of seven black people and two white people (one of whom is the father of two African-American sons) -- is racist is flat-out ludicrous. Despite this huge stumble, and the blatant sabotaging of data by RPS administrators -- no, I do not believe it was a "mistake" -- this school board and the individuals who comprise it remain the best hope this city has had in years to help us create a school system that meets the needs of all children -- of all ethnicities and all socio-economic backgrounds.
And Mayor Dwight Jones needs to stop bullying this board and give them the room to do their job. In this war to win the minds of Richmond’s children and to secure the future of our region, Jones and his advisors need to remember that it is contrary to fundamental military strategy to put your generals in place for a new offensive and then withdraw funding as they commence.
The mayor has "flat funded" the operations budget (that's being kind, since it's really shrunk) and defunded the capital budget. City Council holds the purse strings. They could re-fund the district some and allow it breathing room to go through a process that would be no less painful, but would at least be better considered.
It's irresponsible -- even immoral -- that right now there’s less than $20,000 per school in the capital budget. That doesn't include Arthur Ashe, the Arlington Road warehouse, or the so-called "white-house warehouse" where those 550 computers sat unused just off Avenue of the Champions tucked up behind Sports Backers stadium. Recent figures from Richmond City Auditor Umesh Dalal’s office estimate these buildings to be worth roughly $7 million.
Even less ethical is that the mayor has taken $22 million that should probably be controlled the school board to control (as its capital budget?) and plans instead to use it to demolish Overby-Sheppard Elementary School and re-build it. Despite high-minded protests to the contrary, this school is really a vanity project for Mayor Jones and 6th-District member and City Council vice-president Ellen Robertson.
Meanwhile, this whole race issue is very real, but it's also a red herring. We're talking about a district that's 90-percent or more African American. It's hard to rezone on race when you're not working with much in the way of a white population.
None of the surrounding counties suffers from similar bleed-off of students to private and parochial schools. I truly believe what Susan B. Anthony said years ago: "If all the rich and all of the church people should send their children to the public schools they would feel bound to concentrate their money on improving these schools until they met the highest ideals."
Every speaker this past Tuesday night and the entire School Board should have gotten on one of those buses that ferried parents over to complain to the School Board at Thomas Jefferson and ridden it down to City Hall to complain directly to the elected officials who control the money.
Maybe not doing that was the biggest mistake of the night. Maybe we ALL blew it.