RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Mayor Levar Stoney called his proposal to transfer $7.3 million to begin work on a new 1,800-seat George Wythe High School “one last offer at compromise” amid an ongoing impasse over the project between the Richmond City Council and School Board.
Alongside four city council members Monday, Stoney said he will introduce an ordinance to reallocate $7.3 million in school construction funds to the division to begin the design process for a new George Wythe that could accommodate “all of its students.”
The School Board and council have disagreed over how to move forward with the initial funding for the project, with the size of the school being the main sticking point.
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 still supports.
“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.”
Late last month, the Richmond City Council rejected a plan to transfer the $7.3 million in funding to the school board to move forward with the design of a new school.
Stoney said the ordinance he plans to introduce Monday would make for a new Wythe with the capacity for 1,800 students when it opens. He added that the school would also have the ability to expand if needed.
The mayor called on the School Board to back the proposal, but its members have continued to support building a new school for 1,600 students, which Stoney and other city leaders have argued would lead to overcrowding.
“A majority of City Council has rightfully taken notice and expressed reluctance to release millions in hard-earned taxpayer dollars to a divided and dysfunctional body that seems determined to build a brand new school according to the specifications that would likely have it over capacity when it opens,” Stoney said.
The mayor said he shares the concerns of the council members, saying he won’t back building a new school that ignores population trends or one with temporary classrooms. He said coming to an agreement on a path forward is up to all city leaders, not just one person.
“We are one Richmond and it is the job of all us,” Stoney said. “It is in that spirit that I along with members of the City Council will present one last offer at compromise that will allow us to move forward for our kids and their families sooner rather than later.”
The School Board has remained steadfast on building a new George Wythe for 1,600 students, with members arguing that a larger school for 2,000 students would cut into funding for a new Woodville Elementary.
School Board member Jonathan Young said in a statement to 8News’ Autumn Childress that he’s disappointed “that some elected officials are unwilling to even say ‘Woodville Elementary'” and that the board remains committed to moving forward with plans for a 1,600-seat school.
“Every unnecessary dollar spent on vacant seats at one building means unavailable dollars at another school building. It’s very unfortunate that the children at Woodville are being told to wait in line,” Young’s statement read.
In an interview with 8News Monday, Young said there was “zero rationale” for developing a design plan for more than 1,600 students at the new George Wythe. Young did, however, say there is support among School Board members to include renderings in the design plan “for an additional wing to accommodate another 200 students” should it be required in the future.
Last year, the board cited cost concerns when voting to take control over school construction from Stoney’s administration. But the council still has authority over funding and has voted against transferring the needed funds for designing the new school for months due to the different views on a capacity level.
The Richmond School is expected to discuss the George Wythe project Monday evening. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, the Richmond School Board chair and 6th District representative, said in an email to Childress that she looks “forward to the robust conversation the school board members will have.”
“I know deep down we all want the best for our kids, but the time for disagreement is over. The time for politics is over. Each day of further delay is a disservice for our kids,” the mayor added.
The city council is expected to vote on the funding ordinance on April 25.