Richmond Public Schools budget proposal released amid questions surrounding process

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Concern over the lack of transparency behind Richmond Public School’s proposed budget for 2019-2020 compelled RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras to share the plans with the central office’s staff on Wednesday. 

Superintendent Kamras shared the 228-page budget proposal to the central office in an email, which 8News obtained, along with a personal message to the staff about questions surrounding the budget process.  

Kamras sent the budget to the staff members after the school board voted on Monday to approve the proposal and send it to Mayor Levar Stoney and the City Council. 

Departments that will experience major cuts will be media relations, which will have its budget cut by 54.2 percent, and the funds that go towards new textbooks, which will be cut by 47.5 percent. 

Kamras’ budget proposal also calls for the elimination of the salaries of the Communication & Media Relations Administration, $96,128, from the year before. These job cuts were reported earlier but 8News could not confirm what department would see salaries slashed. 

The budget for materials and supplies have been cut, some drastically, for multiple RPS schools. This includes a 69.5 percent cut from Huguenot High School’s budget for materials and supplies.

Concern over the lack of transparency behind Richmond Public School's proposed budget for 2019-2020 compelled RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras to share the plans with the central office's staff on Wednesday. 

Under the proposal released by Kamras, funds for materials and supplies in Thomas Jefferson High School’s IB Diploma Program will not change. The budget for Thomas Jefferson High School’s materials and supplies, however, will drop by 71.5 percent ($148,660 to $42,380). ​​​​​​​Kamras’ full letter to the RPS’ Central Office can be read below: 

Dear Central Office,

I’m reaching out to address questions regarding the transparency of this year’s budget process. Over the past year, I have tried to demonstrate how seriously I take transparency: by sharing what’s working and what’s not every week in my RPS Direct message; by making myself available at hundreds of public meetings to answer any and all questions from students, families, staff, and community members; and by attempting to create documents for Board discussions that are layman-friendly so that the public can more easily participate in the process of holding me accountable.

In the interests of transparency, over the past several weeks, we have held eight public meetings about our FY20 budget. In addition to discussing roughly $18 million in requested new funding to pay for a teacher raise and the costs of Dreams4RPS, our strategic plan, we had lengthy discussions about $13 million in proposed central office cuts. 

We discussed the non-personnel cuts – line by line – in public. And, as allowed by Virginia law and RPS Board Policy, we discussed the personnel cuts – line by line – in closed session. We did so in an effort to treat our employees with respect and dignity.

A couple of weeks ago, in an effort to be responsive to Board requests, the RPS Finance Team developed the “full,” roughly 230-page version of the budget. Please note that this comprehensive document is normally prepared much later in the budget process – after RPS knows how much funding it is going to receive from the City and the State. 

We uploaded that document to the Executive Section of Board Docs (not viewable to the public) on Friday, February 15. It was uploaded to the Executive Section because it contains information about the proposed central office personnel cuts.

I had hoped to be able to inform you about your status for next year in face-to-face meetings prior to the news becoming public, as no one should learn about their future in the newspaper. Moreover, I believe that employees who are losing their jobs should have the opportunity to share this information with those closest to them before it becomes public. That is why I initially made the decision to not immediately release the full budget document. I believe that was the humane thing to do.

That said, to directly respond to the calls for greater transparency, I am making the full budget publicly available now. It is attached to this email. 

I am terribly sorry that we were not able to inform you in person about your status for next year prior to releasing this information publicly. This is exactly what I was hoping to avoid. Members of the RPS Leadership Team will soon be reaching out to share additional information and supports. 

Because I know there may still be a number of questions from staff and members of the public, I will be holding a public meeting tomorrow, February 28th, at 6 pm, at MLK Middle School. I will stay as long as necessary to ensure that every attendee has a chance to ask her/his questions. 

With appreciation,

Jason

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