School Board Meeting Recap - June 15, 2015

Richmond’s School Board crafted a motion to address citizen complaints over lack of communication and transparency regarding faculty leveling throughout the city. Superintendent Bedden assured the public that the process would not eliminate positions, and cautioned the Board of the potential unintended consequences of halting the budget process. The Board passed the motion by a 6-3 vote.


Leveling process

Last Friday, the RPS administration informed teachers about the annual leveling process, a part of the budget which allocates teachers based on student course demand. Arts and World Language teachers, as well as some core teachers, would have to transfer to another RPS school with higher demand for their subject in order to remain employed. The public reacted hastily. At the meeting, over a dozen citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with the leveling process' lack of transparency, as well as with the process in general. Speakers included School Board member Shonda Harris-Muhamed, members of the Allience for Progressive Values, and RPS Students.

Superintendent Bedden reiterated his support for arts and world language education, and stressed that, "There is no teacher losing a job due to this process.” However, he stressed adjustments had to be made to satisfy student demand. “What we are challenged with is what we call needs-based-staffing based on limited resources,” said Dr. Bedden. He also referenced factors that affect the leveling process, such as open enrollment policies, lack of parent responses in turning in scheduling forms, and a lack of engagement during the budget process. He expressed his appreciation for the citizen input in regards to the leveling process, but asked the audience to, “Please be as active and engaged during the budget process.”

Despite Dr. Bedden’s remarks, Mrs. Taylor proposed the following motion, with an added amendment by Mrs. Shonda Harris-Muhammed:

To stop the implementation of the leveling process at all secondary schools until the Board obtains information on the teacher and student impact, with the information to be provided at the next work session.

Mrs. Harris-Muhammed reiterated her frustration with the timing of the leveling process, stating, “We need to be transparent all the time.” Her statements were echoed by the rest of the School Board. Mrs. Gray also regretted the way teachers had been informed of the levelling process and suggested holding a public forum to address citizen’s budgetary priorities. “I would like to be able to sit down with families and figure out what folks are willing to give up and what folks are not willing to give up,” she said.

Members of Dr. Bedden’s administration and other Board members expressed their concerns about the motion. The Superintendent warned about potential “ripple effects” of halting the budget process to reconsider leveling. These reservations were shared by Mr. Westbay, Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services who mentioned delays in teacher assignment and student scheduling, as well as potential $1.7 million in foregone savings and overcrowded classes. Mr. Coleman and Mrs. Larson both said they feared the delay would create more problems than it would solve.

The Board voted in favor of the motion, with Mr. Coleman, Mrs. Larson, and Mr. Bourne opposing. Mr. Westbay is expected to present information about the leveling process at a public meeting already scheduled for June 17th.

Renaming Thompson Middle School

Two citizens presented their name proposals for the newest Richmond Middle School. A retired Thompson Middle teacher proposed the name James Calvin Vaughan Middle School, dedicated to the school's English and Drama teacher during the 70’s and 80’s. Another citizen, a social studies teacher upon the urging of his students, proposed the name South Middle or Southside Middle. The vote is scheduled to take place on July 13th.

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