RPS $311.2M budget for 2020-21 unveiled

Ronald E. Carrington | 1/24/2020, 6 a.m.
Superintendent Jason Kamras’ proposed $311.2 million general fund operating budget for the new fiscal year that will begin July 1 ...
Mr. Kamras

Superintendent Jason Kamras’ proposed $311.2 million general fund operating budget for the new fiscal year that will begin July 1 received mixed reviews at the Richmond School Board meeting on Monday night.

The budget plan seeks a $21 million increase in the city’s contribution to RPS, a bit more than the $18.5 million that the mayor and City Council funded for the

current 2019-20 budget year that will end June 30. If approved, that would add to a $17 million increase in state funding that RPS is projecting to receive after July 1, according to the Kamras proposal.

The extra money would allow the school system to provide a 3 percent raise for teachers and staff, including a built-in step increase; absorb any rise in health care costs for employees; and provide $28.7 million to cover school operational and maintenance costs, including an expan- sion of Mr. Kamras’ five-year educational improvement plan.

If all the money comes in, RPS would cover the entire cost of pay raises because the state’s biennial budget, as proposed, does not provide additional funding for teachers’ raises until the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Mr. Kamras said the plan also would fully fund Year 2 of RPS’ Dreams4RPS strategic improvement plan.

That would allow RPS to hire 10 ad- ditional art, music and foreign language teachers; provide transportation for an addi- tion 150 children in the Virginia Preschool Initiative; upgrade the pay of school nurses; and add recruiters to reduce the number of teacher vacancies on opening day.

The additional funding also would pay for hiring more social workers and school nurses; funding student recognition activities in schools with high at-risk populations; opening a second RPS welcome center; expanding home visitation and mentoring programs; and purchasing 10 new buses, among other items.

If approved by the board, the budget would go into effect July 1. However, it still must pass muster with the mayor and City Council that provide the funding.

City budget officials apparently notified Mr. Kamras that the mayor is unlikely to recommend any increase in school funding when the mayor releases his budget in early March.

Mr. Kamras’ budget plan did not go over well with at least one member.

“If enacted, this general fund budget would reverse all of our gains from last year,” said board member Jonathan Young, 4th District, referring to the cuts to the Central Office staff that saved $13 million.

“This budget calls for an increase in spending year over year without any belt tightening and does not comport with the cuts made last year.”

In a Free Press interview on Wednesday, Mr. Young said he has identified more than $18.9 million in spending cuts that can be made and will submit them for review at the board’s budget workshop on Thursday, Jan. 23.

The board is having four additional budget workshops through Feb. 11, with a vote anticipated a week later to meet the city’s submission deadline.

Elizabeth “Liz” Doerr, 1st District, had a positive reaction to Mr. Kamras’ presentation. She said she wanted to make sure the board understood what line items were contingent on state funds.

“We have to be realistic about how much money we are going to spend and what we are going to put a cap on this year,” Ms. Doerr said. “I agree with Mr. Young. We need to be good custodians as we look for more opportunities for efficiencies as we budget.”

Board member Kenya Gibson, 3rd District, thanked Mr. Kamras for presenting his budget plan earlier this year than he did last year, which she said rushed the board.

“We cut too much last year,” she said. “We cut 20 attendance officers with a savings of $900,000. I am thankful to see we are going to correct that error and, hopefully, we can re-staff that department.”

Mr. Kamras said the goal is for the School Board to approve the budget at its meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18, followed by submission to Mayor Levar M. Stoney.

He said Mayor Stoney would submit his budget to City Council on Friday, March 6, with the council expected to complete its budget review and amendment process by mid-May.

“At that point, the School Board will make any necessary changes and, by June, adopt the final 2021 fiscal budget,” he said.