Monday, January 07, 2008

Builds Schools Now! Chimes in on Prez issue

Today, I had the privilege of taking a peek at a press release for the Richmond Council of PTAs as it was being edited and sent out. It's titled "Crisis in School Board Leadership." Their Build Schools Now! initiative has been trying to light a fire under Richmond's education system, particularly calling for the city's political leadership to come together with the business leadership and invest in new state-of-the-art schools that would demonstrate a new direction for education in Richmond. The text from the press release is pasted below, but first, here's my current take is the situation (not speaking for any group):

The blogs that have been beating the drums for George Braxton's removal as School Board prez are being a little shortsighted. They highlight a lot of problematic behavior that I believe need to be addressed. However, I don't think the buck stops with Braxton. Other members of Richmond's elected "leadership" have as much blame, if not more (in the case of Wilder), to assume for our school system's current state of disrepair and lack of direction. Personally, I really want to see progress at any cost, to establish some forward momentum. Because when my (yet unborn) kid is ready for school in five years, I want him to go to RPS. But, I don't believe that swapping figureheads does much to change the political distrust and habitual finger-pointing at City Hall (see misguided at-large "strong mayor" mistake). In the words of fed up Argentinians in 2002, "Que se vayan todos" (throw them all out). The only way to ensure change is to let the officials know that they are ALL wearing a badge of shame until progress is made. Nothing is granted without a demand and we need to tell the system WHAT we want, not WHO we want.


Richmond City Council of P.T.A’s
Build schools Now
Contact Art Burton: 804-467-6408

Press Statement
Topic: Crisis in School Board Leadership

The main premise behind Build Schools Now is the fact that our City’s leadership has been unwilling to make a capital investment in its children, i.e. building schools that demonstrate the widespread desire for a 21st century education system in Richmond. This ongoing disappointment is a major indicator that our leadership is failing the children of this city.

In December, Build Schools Now members attended a City Council committee meeting where the school board audit was to be discussed. The auditor of the City of Richmond announced that he was short on staff and was not able to conduct the audit in a timely manner. Nonetheless, the City Council and the Wilder administration seemed to be at odds over the purpose and goal of the audit. The school system seemed to be simply using the audit as a way to “redirect” money identified as potential savings to other areas. In this case, the City Council would have zero input into the process on “redirecting” surplus education funds. City Administration and School Board administration seemed to be at odds over whether the School administration was to be “redirecting” or “capturing” savings. In general, there seems to be no agreed upon goal for the audit, no timeline for completion of the audit, nor any benchmarks to measure compliance by the School Board.

Also in December, we reported to the Health, Education, and Human Services committee of City Council that we could not support the building proposal sent forward by the school board of the city of Richmond because it did not address two pressing needs while prioritizing new construction that is not immediately necessary. The proposal did not address our concerns about Richmond’s lack of a first class high school, and it did not address concerns regarding a two school solution for the East End of Richmond. We also disagreed with the idea that an alternative school should be built prior to any other building taken on by the school system.

Moreover ADA information included in the package was dated and contained information about schools that were already closed or offline. The fact that the school board had not taken the time to update its information showed a lack of seriousness around the matter of both school construction and ADA compliance.

Build Schools Now has repeatedly attempted to address the Mayor’s demand that there should be school closings in the city. We have sought a meeting were Mayor Wilder could clarify his position and perhaps assist us in developing a reasonable plan for school building and school closings. However to this date, we have not been invited to meet with the Mayor on this matter. Furthermore, the current political climate does not suggest to us that the school administration will work to get to a “bottom line” from the Mayor on school closings, and we do not believe that the City Council has the political courage to demand that schools be closed. We believe that the Mayor’s unwillingness to collaborate with the School Board is at the heart of the current impasse.

Our children, our families, and our community are being held hostage by demands for school consolidation, perpetually delayed school construction, and the continued stalemate around the audit of the Richmond’s education system. On every turn we are being greeted by political infighting, distrust among those in leadership positions, and ongoing neglect and disregard for the wellbeing of our children and community. We continue to see a lack of vision for quality education in this city. The School Board has clearly decided that “misdirection” and infighting are more important matters than building schools and creating a “new direction”, while our mayor and City Council remains locked in a power struggle.

The Richmond City Council of P.T.A’S will continue to put forward its demand that the political leadership in this city (including the influential members of the business community) end the blame game, infighting and finger pointing, and get serious about the children of the city of Richmond by making a capital investment in them and Build Schools Now.

• We are asking that the School Board of the City of Richmond put forward a “real” plan that begins to address the building needs over all of its community to include ADA compliance.

• We are asking that the City Council of Richmond direct its auditor to complete the audit in a timely fashion and that goal, objectives, timelines be established to insure all parties have the same understanding of outcome measures.

• We ask the Mayor and administration to assist in the development of a realistic school consolidation plan that includes community input. His role should also include the cultivation of political will around the need to engage in and invest in such a plan.

While all leadership in this city states a love for the children of this city and a desire to provide a 21st Century education, move them “from good to great,” ensure that they have a “20/20 vision” and offer us a “new direction”; leadership’s actions to date do not match their words. To remedy this the Richmond City council of PTA’s can only say:

Contact Art Burton: 804-467-6408

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for publishing the press release. It's interesting that they point to Mayor Wilder's "unwillingness to collaborate with the School Board " as the heart of the matter.
    Also the fact that they have been unable to get a meeting with the Mayor puts a lie to his claim that "his door is always open." I have found that phone calls are only returned when it suits his purpose. It's a shame all that talent and politcal energy has gone to waste.

    The Lost Art of the City


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