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Armstrong High school richmond virginia

Richmond school officials to consider closing Armstrong High, five elementary schools  May 29, 2017 – 03:28 pm
Armstrong HS - Church Hill People s News | Richmond, Virginia

Richmond Public Schools will consider closing Armstrong High School and four elementary schools and consolidating three specialty schools if it’s forced to take drastic budgetary actions in coming weeks.

“We find ourselves in a very, very dangerous game of chicken with the City Council ... it would be a dereliction of duty if the School Board waited until the City Council” acted before beginning the “difficult conversation, ” School Board Chairman Jeff M. Bourne said Monday night.

Stressing that it was a hypothetical scenario at this point, Thomas E. Kranz, assistant superintendent of facilities for the school system, presented the school board a list of which schools would be considered for closure if the board is forced to cut $18 million from its proposed fiscal 2017 budget.

The schools are: Swansboro, John B. Cary, Overby-Sheppard and Southampton elementary schools as well as Armstrong High. Three specialty schools, which were not named, would be combined into one.

That scenario, if it is what the School Board agrees on, would move Swansboro students to Blackwell Elementary; Cary students to George Washington Carver Elementary; Overby-Sheppard students to Clark Springs Elementary; and Southampton students to J.B Fisher and E.D. Redd elementary schools.

Students at Armstrong would go to John Marshall, George Wythe and Thomas Jefferson high schools. Kranz would not provide further details on what would happen with the two specialty schools.

The schools, which have flat enrollment or are under capacity, would close in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year, and the hope is that there would be no teacher layoffs, officials said.

The school district is facing the shortfall after Richmond Mayor Dwight C. Jones proposed level funding for the schools’ operational budget after the system had requested an $18 million increase.

The School Board will consider the closings, which would save the district about $3 million, and other cuts and adjustments as a way to address the gap.

While the board does not yet know how much money the district will get when City Council votes on the budget early May, Bourne, Kranz, board members and schools superintendent Dana T. Bedden agree that it is important to begin the conversation about potential school closings now.

“We’re not voting. We’re not taking action, ” Bourne said, but “we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to the community, to start having these conversations.”

While closing the schools is an unpleasant option, Bedden said it may be necessary given the fiscal reality the district faces.

“If I have to pick between a building and the best teacher in front of the classroom, I’ll chose the teachers, ” he said.

Hours before the School Board discussed closing schools, Richmond took a first step in a plan that officials hope will address crumbling school buildings in coming years.

The city and school district have created a new committee — called the Multi-Year School Capital Investment Funding Plan Project Evaluation Team — to come up with a plan to address the school district’s capital issues and to fund the necessary projects, according to city spokeswoman Tammy D. Hawley.

The plan includes looking at existing and potentially new revenue and coming up with language for a referendum in November that could raise taxes to pay for school projects.

New revenue for school funding could come in the form of increased fees, private public partnerships and additional state funding.

The district receives about $4 million for capital projects in a typical year. Last month, the board voted to request $41 million for fiscal 2017. The $105 million addition brings the district’s request for capital project money to $196 million over the next five years.

Agreements reached by the committee won’t affect funding for schools this school year but is meant to address issues in the future.

“I think what this does is try to get us to a point where there’s really a plan of action for committed resources so we’re not having this (hanging) over our heads every year, ” Bedden said.

“Will that go away permanently? We don’t know, but everyone agrees that there is a fiscal challenge.”

The committee includes members of City Council, the School Board, administrators from the city and schools, Jones, and Bedden.

Over the next several weeks, working groups will develop the plans with the idea of presenting a draft report earl next month. A final version would go to the mayor, School Board, City Council and the public by the end of May.


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