The Richmond School Board approved a $271.5 million budget for the year that begins July 1, ending months of speculation about what would happen after Mayor Dwight C. Jones decided against fully funding the board’s request.
On an 8-1 vote during a work session late Tuesday, the board signed off on a plan that is about $9 million higher than the current year’s budget but about $15 million less than Superintendent Dana T. Bedden estimated it will cost to run the school system next year.
The compromise plan keeps in place most of Bedden’s academic improvement plan, a multiyear proposal for improving academic performance across the city.
It also includes funding for a revamped program at Binford Middle School.
“The budget is the clearest picture we have of our priorities as a board,” said School Board member Jeffrey Bourne of the 3rd District. “We’re all going to be judged on academic progress, and I think this plan addresses that.”
School Board Vice Chairwoman Kristen Larson, who represents the 4th District, said preserving the academic plan was essential.
“If we don’t spend the money this year on the academic improvement plan, we won’t make the progress we want to make,” she said. “We approved it in January. We made a commitment to this plan.”
The two big expenses in the plan are for increased pay for adding three professional development days — making the standard teacher work year 194 days, up from 191 now — and for hiring more staff to train teachers and to oversee academic progress. Together, those items will cost about $3.7 million.
Other big expenses include reducing class sizes for kindergarten through third grade ($1.3 million), improving bilingual programs ($1.2 million) and improving exceptional education compliance ($1.34 million).
The spending plan also includes non-discretionary expenditure increases, including higher costs for health insurance premiums ($1.6 million) and paying the full price of taking over truancy functions from the city ($1.8 million). Higher utility rates account for an additional $561,000.
The Binford program will cost about $600,000. It includes implementing the College Board’s Springboard curriculum, as well as using an arts-based approach to teaching.
The board and Bedden’s staff viewed that program as particularly important. Enrollment at the once-popular school in the Fan District has dropped to about 200 students this year, more than half of whom come from outside the school’s attendance boundary.
The promise of the new programs created such excitement in the community, school officials are expecting more than 400 students to enroll there in the fall.
The lone vote of dissent on the budget came from Glen Sturtevant of the 1st District.
Sturtevant favored giving teachers a 2 percent raise and opposed adding professional development days before improving the quality of professional development the school system offers.
He said he thinks suburban counties do a better job of finding ways to pay their teachers.
“I thought it important that we find ways to remain competitive,” Sturtevant said.