School Board Recap - March 20, 2017


Highlights

Monday night’s School Board was quite heated. Coming in the wake of the Superintendent’s State of the Schools Address and the controversy over the $8.3 million surplus, many citizens came forward to express their concerns to members of the School Board. The Board also received an update on the Mayor Stoney’s Education Compact from his Senior Policy Advisor on Opportunity.

Awards and Recognitions

Student Representative, Elijah Johnson

The School Board took the time to recognize their student representative, Elijah Johnson, who could not be at the meeting Monday night. Elijah Johnson is a senior at Huguenot High School with a 2.85 GPA. He was described as having a “great personality and attitude” and was characterized as “a good communicator with the ability to become an excellent leader.” Elijah was recognized earlier in the month by Richmond’s City Council for acting heroically to save a loved one during an armed home invasion. He was shot multiple times during this altercation. The members of the School Board wanted to honor him by recognizing what he did and recognizing him as a student representative.

REB Awards: Distinguished Educational Leadership

Superintendent Dr. Bedden stepped to the podium to recognize two outstanding educators in Richmond Public Schools. These two educators were in the nominees for the 2017 REB Distinguished Educational Leadership Award. The winner of this award receives a $7500 cash grant and additional $7500 grant for their school.

Regina T. Farr, principal of Bellevue Elementary School, was the runner up for the 2017 REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership.

The recipient of the REB Award for Distinguished Educational Leadership was Indira Williams of Ginter Park Elementary School. Principal Williams was honored to receive the award, as she says that she has worked very hard. “This is more for my staff and students than for me,” she said. She is happy that her mission of creating innovation stations in the school’s cafeteria that will encourage STEM learning is finally going to come to fruition.

Public Information

Education as a Passport

Vanessa Johnson of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated (AKA) spoke to the School Board about one of three statewide legislative issues that the AKA’s are passionate about: education She spoke about the national situation in regards to moving from public school systems to charter school systems and other potential changes to education. “We believe that education is the passport to wealth and healthy living,” she said.

No "Gentleman's" Agreements

Tichi Pinkney-Eppes, former member of the School Board and present member of Advocate for Equity in Schools addressed the $8.3 million surplus situation. She stated that she had hoped that the superintendent and the new members would be “a team of ten” and that there would be better transparency and communication. “You’ve got to understand that it is your job to oversee the budget,” she told the Board. “You have to do what is in the best interest of the children. There can be no ‘Gentleman’s Agreements.’” Ms. Pinkney-Eppes stated further that the superintendent must tell the School Board where every penny of the money goes.

She provided a couple of ways for the new Board to deal with the current situation. She proposed student-based budgeting that would put students and student needs first. She also proposed engaging Title I schools and involve parents in the budget planning process. Ms. Pinkney-Eppes says that a new playbook is needed. “The School Board cannot continue on this path,” she said.

“You’re early enough in the game to implement the plan prior to the next budget.” She then added, “Hold the superintendent accountable: he works for you, you don’t work for him.”

All Talk & No Action

Marvin Green from the Richmond Coalition for Quality Education came forward to express his concerns, as well as to assert his right to come and talk to the Board. He described the process of registering for the Public Information Speaker’s List as an “interrogation” by the Board’s clerk, and criticized the way that citizens are not free to speak. “The people who elected you cannot talk!” he exclaimed.

Mr. Green wanted to know how there was an $8.3 million surplus and no one knew. “How do you approve a budget and not know there was $8.3 million?” he asked. “Someone is not telling you everything, and that’s not fair because you all control the public’s purse strings.” Mr. Green asserted that he will be checking on the School Board and told the Board to hold Superintendent Bedden accountable, as they are the superintendent’s boss. “You cannot be all talk and no action,” he said.

Time for a Change

Roderick Bullock of the Richmond NAACP’s Education Committee also expressed his concern about the $8.3 million that was “discovered.” He stated that he was appalled and outraged about the premise that there was a $15-16 million shortfall only to find that there was $8.3 million available all along. Mr. Bullock said that this should have been discussed and that the superintendent failed miserably. “What else is he not being honest and forthcoming about?” he asked.

Mr. Bullock stated that it is time for a change. There is disengagement from the community, issues with school facilities, special education, and teachers’ pay, and an abundance of other problems. “You’ve said a lot of stuff that would be done that have not been done,” he said. He urged more accountability, and stated that Richmond Public Schools are currently in the worst times he’s seen since 1980, characterizing the administration as the worst administration in history.

Lack of Transparency

A concerned volunteer within Richmond’s public schools was appalled about the $8.3 million surplus. She was concerned about the lack of transparency from the superintendent and school board.

“How can you have an $8.3 million surplus and not be able to educate the students?” she asked. She cited how many of the schools have leaking roofs, mold, and broken borders. She talked about how the high schools had no money for uniforms for the marching band members and how the music department at one of these high schools only had $250. “I thought you were broke!” she said. “Volunteers have been going out to help you raise money. With $8.3 million, there should be equipment, uniforms, and no mold!”

What's Done in the Dark Come to the Light

Kandise Lucas from Advocates for Equity in School came to the podium to advocate for dignity within the schools and the rights of students in special education classes. She was vexed about the $8.3 million situation, stating that before the School Board claimed that there was no money for behavior aides and other crucial resources because “we’re broke.” Ms. Lucas called both Dr. Bedden and Dr. Boyd liars, and stated “What’s done in the dark, comes to the light: $8.3 million is not a mistake!” She accused the superintendent of using the money for his own purposes and not for the children. “We cannot keep screwing over the children,” she said, stating that both Dr. Bedden and the School Board’s attorney need to be terminated. She stated that the attorney does not know the law, and that a code of behavior is needed for the School Board because the children are suffering due to the “incompetence of adults.”

Ms. Lucas also stated that the intimidating atmosphere at School Board meetings needs to stop. She characterized Dr. Bedden as both a bully and a dictator. “That’s not collaboration,” she stated, citing how the police stand guard when she or other members of the public speak before the Board. “You think we’re going to jump over there and do something to you?” she asked. “I know I’m bad but I’m not going to anything to you.”

Ms. Lucas further chastised School Board member Linda Owen for sending a student into the school-to-prison pipeline during a disciplinary hearing. “You had declared him guilty before he even came through the door!” Ms. Lucas said, stating that the student in question had been sent to alternative school. “How dare you? How do you sleep at night?”

To the community, Ms. Lucas said that we need to “wake up” and “don’t be fooled.”

Media Portrayal

Charles Willis had some concerns about the freedom of speech and the media hype from social media and the press around the $8.3 million. “Secret! Hoodwinked! Concealed! Bamboozled! Swindled!” he exclaimed, citing what the media has said about the issue. Mr. Willis said that “the community needs to be informed” and that “it should be made publicly known how something like this could happen.” He also said that we should “prepare for war in times of peace” and that everyone should be able to “sit at the table and address the issue.” He was sure that there was some explanation for this $8.3 million surplus.

Trauma Sensitive Teachers

Bob, a volunteer at Oak Grove Elementary School and an advocate for Richmond Public Schools, said that he was inspired by Dr. Bedden’s State of the Schools Address to come and speak. He was frustrated that, after thirteen years, Oak Grove has lost all but one teacher who is a trauma sensitive teacher. The teacher turnaround specialist does not see hope for retaining and acquiring trauma sensitive teachers, according to Bob. Bob wants there to be more training in trauma sensitivity and pushes for the development of a strategic plan to bring the community and the schools together with leadership.

Seen this Movie Before

Marty Jewel stated that he has “seen this movie before” and that he was glad to see the “crusade” making a stand. Mr. Jewel talked about the past, when these issues did not occur. He called the revelation of the $8.3 million surplus “bad business” and “illegal business.” He stated that special education students have been denied the things they need and that this is “not the way to treat children.”

Academic Calendar

Sharla Hare was concerned about the 2017-2018 academic calendar because the calendar provides no teacher work days or early dismissal days. Without these days, teachers have o tome to prepare for students, create lesson plans, and grade assessments. Ms. Hare then added that she found out “less than two hours ago,” that teachers were no longer allowed to take urgent care days. “Is that option gone or is it simply a mistake?” she asked. She called this a “perplexing” issue.

Ms. Hare was also concerned about the lack of transparency around the $8.3 million. “$8.3 million is a lot of money,” she said. She wondered what could have been done before to handle technology and equipment needs had this money been available beforehand.

Debacle

A speaker named Ralph called this “debacle” around the $8.3 million “pitiful and pathetic.” He said that there was no such thing as a hidden fund balance. “If they say so, they’re playing a game,” Ralph asserted.

Ralph stated that when superintendents are driven by their ego, it is bad. But Ralph believes that Dr. Bedden is driven by students. He said that the topic of this $8.3 should not have been discussed until 2018-2019. He also said that the needs of the schools are “so great it’s ridiculous.” Additionally, he stated that politics need to be removed from the equation and that there should not be a contingency budget. He claimed that this who debacle over the fund balance was a case of “wise management being portrayed as mismanagement.”

Finger-Pointing Bandwagon

Ainsley Perkins described the current situation as “disheartening” and “troublesome.” She chided former School Board members for jumping on the “finger-pointing bandwagon” and recognized Support Our Schools for discovering this issue. She said that change is definitely needed. “Over 22 schools need repairs or need to be reconstructed,” she told the Board. “The academic development plan needs more funding.”

Ignorance is Not an Excuse

Mamie Taylor, former School Board member and current interim-president of the Coalition for Quality Education stated that the deficit-surplus situation is “imaginary” and “not real.” She pointed out that the budget is not finalized until July and the budget transfer process is ongoing. However, she also pointed out to the new School Board that “ignorance is not an excuse.”

“I understand you are new and have comradery,” she said. “The previous School Board had a lot of conflict.” She questioned why they are allowing the administration to behave so poorly. She said there are no, and should be no, gentleman’s agreements and that there should be a policy of equity.

Title I schools are not getting equal resources, according Ms. Taylor, and that the administration then blames the lack of success on poverty. “Poverty is not an excuse,” she said.

She told the new Board to be accountable, as they are the servants of the schools and the community. She called for equity and she told the Board members to ask questions and not allow unacceptable things like the current situation to occur.

Academic Improvement Items

The School Board received a report on the Mayor’s Education Compact from Dr. Thaddeus Williamson, the Mayor’s Senior Policy Advisor on Opportunity. The education compact is a collaborative effort between the Mayor, the City Council, the School Board, and the Chief Administrative Officer to tackle issues related to poverty and education. Dr. Williamson said that, “The sooner we tackle the problems together, the better.”

The Education Compact is based on a shared set of goals and commitments. One of these commitments is to institutionalize collaboration by ensuring that there is regular communication between members of the education compact team and that elected leaders collaborate. Another commitment of the Compact is to set and achieve transformative goals. Furthermore, the Compact is committed to a shared funding strategy, in which there will be investment in Richmond’s public school children, obtainment of sufficient resources, an articulable shared plan, and revenue enhancements.

School Board member Liz Doerr, who is currently a part of the Compact team, said that the Compact will be a broad team of stakeholders, which will consist of leaders, students, teachers, and many others. It will include a strategic plan to “educate the whole child.” She admitted that these changes will be challenging, but stated that they can be done. “The plan is to get there all together, all on the same page,” Doerr said. “This will be great to show the community.”

The primary goal of the Compact is reducing poverty, but there are several more goals as well.

  • Grade level academic achievement

  • Supporting the whole child

  • Richmond Public Schools becoming a system of choice for families, teachers, and children

  • Children leave Richmond Public Schools with a plan

  • A trauma informed approach

Mayor Stoney hopes to strengthen childcare, early childhood education, and children’s afterschool programs through this Education Compact. Dr. Williamson said that “where a child starts is very important and critical.”

School Board member Scott Barlow calls the Mayor’s Educational Compact a “strong showing of the ability to collaborate.”

Board members Doerr and Marsh-Carter called these joint meetings “opportunities for dialogue” and the Compact itself a “commitment to transparency.”

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