RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — There were some strong words made by some members of the Richmond City School Board on Monday night in response to the City Council’s handling of the reconstruction contract for George Wythe High School.
Dr. Shonda Harris-Muhammed, board chair of the 6th district, said she met with City Council President, Cynthia I. Newbille, to discuss contractual services for George Wythe High School.
The meeting ended with Newbille requesting a third round of questioning from the school board.
The board expressed frustrations towards the City Council for slowing progress on the rebuilding of George Wythe and withholding the necessary funds to begin work.
The City Council opted to withhold $7.31 million in December after concerns were raised regarding the size of the proposed construction.
“I’m not going to say what I would prefer to say, because what I’d prefer to say is not very polite,” said Jonathan Young, board member of the 4th district.
“The only reason that we have not awarded a contract for design services of a new George Wythe is that there are a few members of City Council that, like Lucy with a football, keeps pulling it out from Charlie Bown.”
Some members of the board were confused by the continuous questioning from City Council, while others believed it was an intentional powerplay to subjugate the council.
“What we’re witnessing is a destruction of democracy,” said Kenya Gibson of the 3rd district.
“We should all be concerned as a city that both the Mayor and the City Council are really adamant about ensuring that they are the ones that can issue this contract,” said Gibson. “I think at this point we should pursue legal action. I question the legality of City Council withholding funds that have already been allocated to school construction.”
The board itself is conflicted on the involvement of City Council in the project. Of the nine members, five seem to be adamantly against it.
“This is bullying,” said Gibson. “I think it’s very sad that we are in this place, but I am incredibly proud of the four colleagues that I sit with who are not accepting the status quo.”
How we got here
The construction of the new George Wythe High School has become a point of friction between Mayor Levar Stoney, City Council members, and the Richmond City School Board.
The trouble began in earnest at the beginning of Aug. 2021, when the School Board voted not to accept an offer by the city to cooperate on the construction of the school.
The school board has sought to direct the construction process themselves, setting a goal of having the school open by 2027 with a capacity of 1,600 students.
But those plans drew backlash from the community and concern from city officials. City council members raised concerns that the school would be overcrowded from day one, as the rapidly growing Southside expands.
In an effort to ease tensions with the school board, Mayor Levar Stoney proposed a resolution to transfer $7 million to give the school board the funds to solicit school designs and start the planning process. The resolution would not, however, provide a blank check for the school board to fund the plan and timeline they eventually settle on.
That was the proposal City Council elected not to vote on in December.