Needs of the Few vs. Needs of the Many

Concerned that Mayor Dwight C. Jones' plan to demolish Overby-Sheppard Elementary School and build a brand-new $21.5 million school in its place is both an ambitious overstepping of his authority and a wasteful use of tax money that allows the needs of the few to outweigh the needs of the many, four members of the City of Richmond Public School Board sent a letter Wednesday to the members of City Council asking for their help. [Click HERE to read the letter].

While the letter acknowledges appreciation for the importance of the Dove Court project and for new schools in general,  School Board member Kimberly B. Gray, one of the signers of the letter, emphasized that there are schools in the city in far greater need of  improvements.  The four board members attached a copy of the latest facilities assessment to illustrate their point. [Click HERE to read the facilities assessment].

While the letter and individual SB members stressed a desire to work together, the letter asks that council members take into account "the three facilities studies we have conducted over the past 10 years and consider the recommendations in those studies" and notes that "the current Overby-­‐Sheppard School is one of our newer school buildings and has only been recommended for renovation – not demolition." 

Gray said the four board members sent the letter  because  "there comes a time when we must concern ourselves with what is best for the greater good  of our city and our children, not what is good for individual districts." Other signers included Glen Sturtevant (1st District), Kristen Larson, (4th District) and Mamie Taylor (5th District).  

The letter details some of the dire needs present in other schools: 
  • At Carver Elementary School-­‐ a portion of the ceiling in a classroom collapsed. 
  • At Fairfield Elementary and Thompson Middle Schools – holes in the roofs that are leaking a black substance and water into classrooms, the library and down classroom windows. The rugs, floors and walls at the schools are stained and emergency exit lighting equipment is damaged. 
  • Overheated pipes at George Mason Elementary School gave a student second degree burn when he accidentally leaned against one of the many exposed pipes in the school building. 
Gray emphasized that there has never been a city-wide meeting of citizens to discuss the proposed school, nor has the proposal been brought to the School Board.  "The School Board is supposed to make these decisions, we were elected by citizens in this city to do this job -- not the mayor, not City Council, not the people at the Richmond Rehabilitative Housing Authority (RRHA)."  

Addressed to Council President Charles Samuels (2nd District), the letter points out that City Council allocated less than $1 million for the combined facility needs of 50 ...  [other RPS buildings] ... and $21 million for the Dove Court School, and asks that the members of City Council:
  • Please meet with the school board and school administration to fully
    understand the CIP needs of all of our schools. 
  • Work with us to develop a full comprehensive plan for the new Dove Court school to include a curriculum that will not only close the achievement gap for the students in the Dove Court area, but will also attract new families to the community. 
  • Do not give preferential treatment to a new school project at the expense of all of the other schools and students in our district. 
 The letter questions and cautions City Council members concerning comments made to them by city officials "that the pending sale of the Arlington Road warehouse could be put towards facility maintenance, even though that decision has yet to be made by the school board." 

Further, the letter wants to know why the proceeds from the Westhampton lease "were completely omitted from our CIP allocation."

Larsen sent out a copy of the letter to constituents last night explaining that she signed it " [...] because I support adequate capital improvements funding for all of our schools."  Earlier in the day she noted that the School Board needs to be "fair" to all schools.

"We can't even agree on closing schools, what kind of sense does it make to spend our tax dollars to build a new one," asked Sturtevant.  "This is a classic example of the waste that comes when the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing."  

Efforts to reach Taylor and other board members for comment last night were unsuccessful. School Board Chairman Jeff Bourne is out of the country and not expected back until next week.

Stay tuned.