School Board Recap - February 20, 2018

Highlights

Monday night’s School Board meeting was a lively one, with the Honorable Mayor Stoney making a surprise appearance in the audience. The School Board and RPS Superintendent Kamras took time to recognize the Mayor for his success in getting the Meals Tax passed. The Board also received a legislative update from their liaisons with the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA). The meeting began with a motion to amend the agenda to include a special recognition.

Special Recognition

Richmond's Mayor Levar Stoney received a formal “thank you” for putting RPS students first and making education a priority. School Board Chair Dawn Page articulated that the 1.5% meals tax increase would address the issue of aging school buildings and foment the creation of a “world-class educational environment” for RPS students.Superintendent Kamras echoed Mrs. Page’s sentiments, stating that buildings, while not necessarily the most important, do matter to a child’s education. He stated that he is looking forward to further partnership with the Mayor. School Board Vice-Chair Dr. Patrick Sapini noted that he also appreciated the steps that the Mayor has taken, comparing him to a turtle for “sticking his head out” in order to get this meals tax passed.

Public Information

Representatives from the Salsa Foundation of Richmond, a group of individuals with a passion for Latin dance, came forward with a proposal for the School Board. The goal of this group is to foster an environment where cultural differences can be appreciated and celebrated and to spread the benefits of dance to RPS students and the city at large. The proposal was for a program for high school students that would include a course of learning and training in Latin culture and dance. This program would increase students’ knowledge of diversity, increase their academic performance, and allow for creative, cultural, and physical growth. Furthermore, participation in this Latin dance program would allow for the development of mental and physical health and discipline. Students would also be able to attend dance competitions. The program would be open to 11th and 12th grade students with a minimum GPA of 2.5.The class would run for twenty (20) weeks, with classes meeting twice (2 times) per week. Students and parents would have to sign a contract of commitment to the program, and students would be expected to maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher in order to remain in the program. The program would consist of both in-school and after-school components. There will be an application for the program and there will be scholarships available for students in need of the financial assistance.

Tom Martin came forward to thank Superintendent Kamras for visiting the school that he works at and for having a positive presence and presentation while there. He noted that teachers are afraid of public humiliation and that a crisp and clean vision of priorities is necessary. He cited that a dialogue on balancing a healthy professional work – life is particularly needed. He urged the School Board to listen closely to Mrs. Oakley as they begin the strategic planning process.

Jane, accompanied by a Spanish translator, came forth from New Virginia Minority to express her concerns about her special needs son who attends Swansboro Elementary. She told the Board that her son’s IEP plan was denied back in September, and that her son is in a class where the teacher is frequently absent, which leaves about seven special needs children with multiple handicaps to be assisted by only one person. Jane also had concerns about transportation. Her son has been placed in a van with several special needs adults who attend a non-RPS facility. These transportation arrangements make her very worried for the safety and well-being of her child. She believes that his rights have been violated, and requests that he be transferred to Patrick Henry Elementary School. Because of the safety concerns, she has been transporting her child, which leaves her with less time to work and to study. She wondered if there is any way she can be reimbursed for the transportation she had to provide, and also inquired as to whether more bilingual staff could be incorporated into the school system.

A representative from AstroCamp, a statewide program that does work with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and astronomy, came forward and asked the School Board to take a look at the exploratory learning services that the program had to offer. One experiential learning opportunity he shared with the Board was an overnight field trip that allows the students to look at the sky for stars, planets, and constellations. He’d left the speech he’d prepared in his vehicle and thus had to improvise a short, brief speech.

Phila Seymour asked that the verbiage in the budget plan be revised because she noticed that ESL, foreign language, and dual-language were being used interchangeably throughout, despite the fact that they are all very different from one another. She offered her assistance if help would be need in differentiating them.

Shelley Bautista from Armstrong High School had two asks for the School Board. One was for projectors for the English Department so that the teachers could better serve their visual learning. The other was for doors that lock following the wake of the Florida High School shooting. The doors, according to Ms. Bautista, are either falling apart, missing windows, or completely non-existent.

Recognitions

Student Representative

Jazmine Davis, the School Board’s student representative for February, was thanked for her second stint working with the Board. Mr. Kamras stated that the Board had a lot to learn from Ms. Davis and that everyone was grateful for her service to the Board. Miss Davis shared that she intends to attend either Mary Baldwin University or Old Dominion University to study Pre-Med/Biology so that she can someday become an obstetrician.

School Board Deputy Clerk

Deputy School Board clerk Kimberly Collins was recognized for her continued service, being formally thanked by the Board and the Superintendent for all that she does to serve them.

Legislative Update

VSBA liasons Mr. Hickory and Mr. Meyers came forward with some updates from the General Assembly. Mr. Hickory shared that it had been a big week for the General Assembly, as they had entered crossover, the period of time in which bills either move on or are killed in their respective committees. This upcoming Sunday, February 25, will be Budget Sunday, where Governor Northam will lay out the Budget for 2018 through 2020. The Governor has proposed Medicaid Expansion a large aspect of the budget, which the House of Delegate supports while the Senate opposes. What this means for education is whether or not educational funding will increase or decrease. A nine million ($9) dollar increase could be expected if the VA Lottery is use, which has no strings attached.

The House of Delegates supports keeping $36.4 million to keep the 2% teacher pay raise (effective July 1, 2019). They also support spending $2.3 million on the Virginia Preschool Initiative. Furthermore, they are willing to put $52,000 into technology for CodeRVA. Additional spending would go towards language amendments and school counselors. No-loss funding and the competitive fund for principals were removed.

The Senate was noted as being “more modest.” The Senate supports keeping $7.1 million for an add-on supplement for teacher recruitment and retaining. The support spending $4.6 million for the Virginia Preschool Initiative and putting in $125,000 per year for the high school apprenticeship program. The Senate removed the 2% teacher pay raise.

Thus, there are two versions of the budget currently to consider, with a $600 million difference between them. A compromise is needed, as there is a lot of uncertainty. RPS was instructed that they need to identify what they support and/or oppose in these budget plans. The Board would need to have this feedback done by February 22.

Mr. Barlow, who is on the legislative committee for the School Board, asked that his colleagues and the administration identify what to include. He noted that the House approach works better for RPS and that their lobbying team needs to be sure to advocate for the best option and highlight the key priorities.

Ms. Cosby asked for clarification on the no-loss funding removal and its implication. Mr. Meyers explained that the schools would not be losing anything, but would not be gaining anything as a result of its removal.

School Board Chair Mrs. Page asked Mr. Barlow and Dr. Sapini whether there are any next steps that need to be taken in mobilizing the community.

Mr. Barlow conveyed his frustration over the inability to turn over the House in terms of education, despite receiving the most sizable return for education advocacy efforts from the House.

Superintendent Kamras inquired as to why the lobbying team would be unable to determine the best option for the budget. Mr. Hickory explained that the financial committee of the Board would be more effective at making this determination than the lobbying team. Mr. Kamras stated that RPS must craft an advocacy plan.

Ms. Cosby asked for clarification of the dates and asked whether the Board is “confined to saying we lobby for X, Y, and Z from the Senate?” or whether the Board could “distinguish between what [they] like and dislike?” Mr. Meyers explained to her that the Board has the ability to pick from both of them.

Ms. Burke asked whether or not the financial committee would be a part of the conversation. It was confirmed that they would be able to put in their input.

Mrs. Doerr asked for re-clarification on the no-loss funding, as she thought that there would be a fiscal impact due to the removal of the no-loss funding. Ms. Cosby seconded that question. Mr. Meyers explained to them that the loss would be a net loss that would indeed hurt the education system but would not result in further loss.

Mrs. Page again set forth her question of whether the Board should be planning ahead for mobilization of stakeholders, inquiring whether that would be feasible to secure a good outcome.

Mr. Barlow responded that “yes,” the Board should be ready but also that the Board needs information so that they can be smart in their mobilization efforts. “Virginia is number 47 out of the 50 states for educational funding, and with Richmond’s poverty being 26%, RPS’s poverty rate lies at 40%” he noted. “We need all the help and all the hope we can get, especially given the limited time we have.”

Mrs. Page stated that she understood that a directive from the administration was needed but she also explained that there is a necessity of having a plan in place. “Just be ready,” she said.

Mr. Barlow said that there has been an uptick from the City but not from the State. There is continuing advocacy to fix the state-level funding issues and further work being done with the legislative and lobby teams to get the most bang-for-buck.

Board Business

School Board Attorney Mrs. Lilly presented the Board with the revisions to the Community Relations section of the School Board guidelines. Every five years the School Board must review the policies therein and consider which policy areas need revision. The first changes discussed dealt with changed to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). The FOIA officer would need to be fully stated for the record in order to ensure accessibility and accuracy of contact information. The second changes discussed dealt with advertising, sales, and solicitation policies. Mrs. Lilly pointed out that the policy at the moment is very restrictive, and thus wondered if the Board would be open to changing the policy in order to derive funding through direct ways. She stated that she would present information about other districts who had done so for the Board members to reference. The Board also did their first read-through of the revised Business section of the guidelines.

Meals Tax Discussion

Mr. Kamras explained that the meals tax is the proposed plan for funding sponsored by the Mayor that was approved by City Council. The discussion at the current moment is know how to appropriate the suspected $150 million in revenue from the tax and what to do with the $14 million already at the Board’s disposal.

The plans already in place include new school buildings to replace George Mason Elementary, Greene Elementary, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle, and George Wythe High School. Superintendent Kamras noted that these would require the consideration of rezoning, limited consolidation, private-public partnerships, and creative action. He made a request for City Council action and stated that he looks forward to working with Council.

Ms. Cosby inquired into a promise that had been made for new furniture for Overby-Sheppard Elementary School. Mr. Meyers confirmed that that was still on the radar.

Mrs. Doerr questioned whether renovation would be a better option over reconstruction, since the costs would be so great. Mr. Young seemed to follow Mrs. Doerr’s sentiments, noting that he felt the Board was moving in the wrong direction. His proposal was that the Board advocate for consolidation in order to go farther much faster. He stated that this would allow for bigger, bolder, and more transformative change.

Mr. Barlow emphasized the need to address current issues first, like the issue of doors without locks at Armstrong. He said that the School Board should keep in mind other areas to invest in.

Superintendent Kamras acknowledged that there are a number of steps to take but that he and the Board as a collective are ready to take those necessary steps for Richmond’s children.

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