RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras is pushing to increase residents’ property tax to help fund renovations for the city’s crumbling schools.
In a letter addressed to RPS families, Kamras explained that he wants to restore Richmond’s property tax rate to its pre-recession level of $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value.
” … today I am asking the Council to enlarge the pie for our children by restoring Richmond’s property tax rate to its pre-recession level: $1.30 per $1,000 of assessed value. To offset the burden this would place on low-income families, I propose a rebate program for residents below a certain income level. And I’m open to any other sensible policies to make sure we don’t place an undo burden on small businesses, which have been the engine of Richmond’s recent economic expansion.
This proposal would likely raise something on the order of $20 million per year for our schools. I recommend we use 2/3 of this new revenue for operating costs and 1/3 to finance debt for new school construction.
I recognize that raising property taxes might be the least popular thing an elected official can do. And I recognize it means less hard-earned money in people’s pockets.
But I’m asking the Council and the City to support this nonetheless. Let’s move beyond impassioned speeches about the need to do something. Let’s just do it.
Let me take this opportunity to directly address three of the arguments that I already know will be marshaled against this proposal:
1) RPS doesn’t need more money; it needs better management – I firmly believe it needs both. On the management side, I have tried to demonstrate over the last several months that I take this responsibility very seriously. I brought in an entirely new senior leadership team, cut 30 positions from the central office, removed a number of individuals who were not performing adequately, reconciled our capital accounts with the City, called for a finance and operations audit (which we’re beginning to implement), and added an auditor position. And I’m just getting started. During this budget cycle, I intend to slash millions of dollars currently being wasted on ineffective initiatives and reallocate those resources to people and programs that have a proven track record of success.
2) What exactly does RPS need the money for? Does it even have a plan? – Indeed we do. As noted above, it’s called Dreams4RPS and we developed it in close collaboration with stakeholders over the last several months. After more than 170 community meetings and the participation of over 3,000 people, we have a bold plan for the future built around five key priorities: 1) Exciting and Rigorous Teaching and Learning; 2) Skilled and Supported Staff; 3) Safe and Loving School Cultures; 4) Deep Partnership with Families and Community; and 5) Modern Systems and Infrastructure. You can read the full plan here.
3) RPS already spends more per student than the counties; why does it need even more? ¬¬¬- Because our students have much greater needs than those in Henrico, Hanover, or Chesterfield. Our student poverty rate is roughly twice what it is in Chesterfield and Henrico, and almost three times what it is in Hanover. The research on educating children who grow up in poverty is painfully clear: it’s dramatically more expensive.
I am certain that many Richmonders – including some of our elected officials – will tell me that we need to take more time to think this through, do some more studies, and think about other sources of revenue. I’ve heard this now for almost an entire year. Our children, families, and staff can’t wait any longer.
As Dr. King so famously said: “We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there ‘is’ such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
Let us rise beyond our painful past as the former Capital of the Confederacy and take this desperately needed action to create a more just and equitable future for our children – and let us do it with the fierce urgency of now.
8News spoke with Laura Lafayette from the Richmond Association of Realtors about Kamras’ proposal.
“Real estate taxes are typically the largest source of revenue for local government,” she said, “to fund all local government needs.”
Lafayette acknowledges the need for additional funding but says responsibility should be shared.
“We can’t just focus on schools and we the realtors are not going to be a party to a conversation that’s only about the schools,” Lafayette said.
School board member Jonathan Young said he will fight the proposed tax increase ‘with every ounce in my body.’
If there was any correlation whatsoever relative to spending and academic performance than RPS would be among the best school districts in the state. Instead and despite spending nearly $15,000 per-capita student per year; less than half of our schools are accredited, we lose 22% of our teachers every year because of micromanagement, and we solely graduate 2 in 3 students. Does anyone really think that if we e.g. increase spending for RPS from $350 million a year to $400 million a year we will improve? Do any of my colleagues really think that if we increase per-capita spending from what now amounts to $15k a year to $20k we will see any appreciable difference? It’s like the person in the cold complaining of the room temperature and the need to spend more money on raising the thermostat never to take the time to find that a window in the rear of the house is open bleeding money. Residents of the City of Richmond are already taxed on their house significantly more than residents in Chesterfield, Henrico, and Hanover and unlike in the counties where they get some return on that investment, to suggest to bleed the taxpayers even more before doing something to demonstrate a ROI (return on investment) for RPS is not only insulting but surely should prompt a public outcry. Look, all of my constituents are willing and prepared to spend more than the counties do relative to education and it’s important to note that we currently spend much more per student than our suburban neighbors but they darn well expect RPS to manage their money in a way where we can pass simple audits, graduate our students, and do the basics, but to date RPS has not. Only RPS would have the audacity to go back to the very people, i.e. the taxpayers that have funded a broken RPS and ask them to put up even more money when as a school district we have demonstrated zero competence. I will fight this proposed tax increase with every ounce in my body. — Jonathan Young
8News also spoke with city councilwoman Reva Trammell, who said she would not support the proposal and that Superintendent Kamras “needs to go back to Washington D.C.” and “should not be telling city council or the mayor what to do.”