RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — After months of debate, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sent out a proposal Monday morning for “one last offer at compromise,” offering to transfer $7.3 million to begin work on a new 1,800-seat George Wythe High School amid ongoing arguments on the project that created a distasteful game of tug of war between the Richmond City Council and School Board.
Monday night, the Richmond School Board finally came to an agreement over the issue.
The center of the months-long debate over construction and funding has been school capacity and, whether the school should hold 1,600 students as suggested, or 2,000 to accommodate for potential growth.
Stoney said his funding ordinance would make way for a new school for 1,800 students, a figure between the 2,000-seat school that the city initially backed and the 1,600-seat school that the School Board supported.
The Richmond School Board meeting Monday night opened with a student representative from George Wythe High School. Shaniece Gentry, a senior at Wythe, is an honor roll student and a member of the National Honor Society and National Society of High School Scholars.
Gentry took her time to open the meeting, explaining how “it is urgent that the new George Wythe be built as soon as possible.”
“While it is critical that the school be built to accommodate the growing population in the Southside, also just as important are the resources inside of the school,” Gentry said.
She went on to explain that the school has a shortage of desks and chairs, “many of which are broken.” She added that the technology, smartboards, projectors and lab equipment in the school are outdated, and materials normally used for learning in schools, are sorely lacking.
“We did not have textbooks to use, to review/study for tests,” Gentry said. “So me and my classmates had to rely on a third-party site, like Quizlet, for studying just to make sure we understood the material”
Tisha Erby, a Wythe High School parent spoke at the school board meeting Monday, begging the school board to come to a compromise with city council.
“Please please please, I do not like to beg but, please. This is not a game of deal or no deal,” Erby pleaded.
She referenced overcrowding at River City Middle School, and said to avoid the same fate, the new George Wythe will need to be able to hold more than 1,600 students.
“Why go low when you can go high…We need a bigger building,” Erby said.
Theresa Slaton was another speaker at the meeting on Monday night who advocated for the building of a new school that is larger than the model originally proposed by the board. She opened her statement Monday with the naming of several new housing developments in the Southside.
“The growth is there, the development is there, I think the school board should parallel what we see going on in the city,” Slaton said. “We see new buildings, we see growth. Let our schools also model and reflect that.”
“Let’s get it done, so we can move on,” Slaton said as she ended her statement.
The Richmond branch of the NAACP sent out a release Monday evening, commenting on the continued disagreement between the school board and city council, saying that the matter “has been a hot potato for too long” and suggested: “That architectural plans should include the capacity to add a wing for several hundred more students when the population projections indicate the growth warrants expanding.”
The Richmond NAACP asked the school board to, “stop posturizing, release the money, and recognize and move forward immediately with building a school for 1,800 students.”
School Board member Dawn Page motioned during the meeting to “direct the administration to address school construction for George Wythe High School, meeting the needs of a student capacity for 1,800.”
Kenya Gibson then came back in reply, and suggested an amendment to instead move forward with the design of a 1,600 student school that includes a design option for a potential future addition to hold an additional 200 students. The amendment was later retracted by Gibson.
The board voted and passed the original motion given by board member Page for building a school with a capacity of 1,800 students –in line with Stoney’s last offer of compromise.
“We have to have schools that are truly built to serve our community,” said Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed right before the vote.
Richmond City Council is expected to vote on Stoney’s funding proposal on April 25. If approved, the City will transfer $7.3 million to begin the school’s construction.
“Our children have waited long enough,” Stoney said Monday. “Their parents have waited long enough It’s time to put down our swords and it’s time to elevate our kids above the fight.”