Kamras and the tipping point

10/25/2018, 6 a.m.
There’s a tipping point for everything, where the small actions of a few propel the idea of urgent change to ...

There’s a tipping point for everything, where the small actions of a few propel the idea of urgent change to mass acceptance.

We saw that with the recent widespread public support for Richmond Public Schools.

After students walked out of classes and marched to City Hall and parents and children held rallies on the steps of City Hall, support began mounting for efforts to fix Richmond’s broken down public school buildings.

The backing grew as teachers and others spoke before City Council and at School Board meetings about the deplorable conditions young people faced daily, such as at George Mason Elementary School with rodent droppings on desks in the mornings, unusable restrooms, cold lunches and unheated classrooms with leaky ceilings.

The stories were sickening and saddening — and yet motivating. When Mayor Levar M. Stoney called for increasing the city’s meals tax to provide money to replace some of the worst buildings, the public and City Council backed his request. People were willing to pay a little extra each time they eat out knowing the money will help improve Richmond schools.

Hundreds of volunteers also showed up this summer to clean, paint, fix bathrooms and hallways and spruce up buildings before classes started after Labor Day. Their sweat equity made them feel like they were doing something for the kids.

Now Superintendent Jason Kamras may have tipped public support for Richmond Public Schools to the off position when he suggested last week a 10 cent hike in the city’s real estate taxes to help schools. 

He said the tax hike would generate $20 million to $24 million for RPS. He suggested that $13 million of that go toward operations, with the remainder earmarked for new school construction.

Here’s how the tax hike would affect the average city homeowner: It would increase the tax bill on a home valued at $100,000 by $100. The current rate of $1.20 per $100 of assessed value would rise to $1.30 per $100 in value, making the annual tax bill on a $100,000 home go from $1,200 to $1,300. 

While that tax hike may not sound like much, Mr. Kamras fails to understand that real estate assessments of homes and property in the city have gone up 25 percent in some cases. The $100,000 home may now be valued at $125,000, making next year’s tax bill rise automatically to $1,500. Hiking the tax rate by 10 cents would raise the bill to $1,625.

That kind of increase may be enough to push senior citizens on fixed incomes and others living on the edge out of their homes and out of the city.

While Mr. Kamras suggested exempting low-income residents from the tax hike, he provided no details.

Richmond residents have shown they are invested in improving our school buildings and educational quality for the 24,000 youngsters attending RPS. But Mr. Kamras just soured that goodwill and support with his hasty call for a tax hike. 

Mr. Kamras and the Richmond School Board are going to have to look inward before reaching out to taxpayers and asking for more money.

The public needs to see Mr. Kamras, the school administration and the School Board taking steps to cut back its $360 million annual budget. We need to see that RPS is using the resources it has in the best possible way before resorting to a real estate tax hike.

Mr. Kamras and the School Board also need to show some real progress in student achievement, graduation rates and outcomes when they hit up the public with such a request.

It’s too early for such a tax hike to be put on the table. No can do.

 As author Malcolm Gladwell said: “The key to good decision-making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”

We urge Mr. Kamras, who has been in charge of RPS less than a year, to get a better understanding of the situation and a better grip on public sentiment. We’d hate to see him blow the momentum and groundswell of support for RPS.