Richmonders will vote Tuesday on a referendum to change the city’s charter to require Mayor Levar Stoney to create a plan to modernize the city’s schools without raising taxes.
The 350-word referendum is on the back of the ballot, something the creators of the referendum — Proposition A — are working to bring awareness to. Richmond Public Schools continues to face serious infrastructure problems.
Here are six answers to questions related to the referendum:
What is the current state of Richmond school facilities?
The city is still facing problems with its 44 schools. George Mason Elementary School in the East End has become the focal point of discussion as school officials grappled over the summer with whether to close it, but interim Superintendent Tommy Kranz has said the difference between Mason and the next-worst school isn’t that large.
The schools are suffering from years of deferred maintenance, meaning improvements were put off in order to save money at the time.
How did the referendum get on the ballot?
A petition calling for the referendum to be on the ballot garnered more than 15,000 signatures of registered city voters.
In August, a Richmond Circuit Court judge ordered the proposed charter change appear on the ballot. The Richmond City Council chose not to challenge the ruling, meaning the referendum would appear.
What does the referendum say?
The referendum is broken down into five parts. The first part gives a bit of a history lesson and quotes Martin Luther King Jr. It says that Richmond’s facilities situation “is not unique.” The second part tackles the mayor’s responsibilities. The charter change says the mayor would have six months to present a fully funded plan to the City Council that would modernize RPS infrastructure without a tax increase or tell the council that such a plan isn’t possible.
Part three says the mayor’s plan to improve facilities cannot be funded with new or increased taxes.
The fourth part of the referendum says the School Board’s power would not be changed. The final part requires the council to take action on the mayor’s plan within 90 days.
What happens if the referendum passes?
If the referendum passes, it would then go into the hands of the Virginia General Assembly. Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond, has said he would work to get the charter change passed through the legislature, which is under no obligation to take up the charter change in its 2018 session. The session starts in early January.
What happens if the referendum fails?
RPS is in the midst of developing a facilities plan after a 2015 plan known as Option Five stalled because of the city’s limited debt capacity. The division’s infrastructure remains a main issue, and officials have vowed to work to fix it, regardless of the referendum’s success.
A plan from the RPS administration was expected to be presented in late October, but it was not complete. The School Board is receiving an overview of the plan at its work session Monday.
Who is behind the referendum?
The Richmond Crusade for Voters, a group founded in 1956 that works to inform voters, took up the initiative to create the referendum. Paul Goldman, a Democratic strategist, was the proposition’s chief architect and has campaigned strongly for its passage.
JMJ Corp., a Richmond-based interior design company, donated $500 to the committee raising money for the initiative. Former Richmond mayoral candidate Joe Morrissey’s law firm also donated $500, according to state campaign finance reports.
Goldman himself donated a few hundred dollars, and Ronnie Drake, a retired Richmond resident, was the committee’s largest donor at $1,000, according to the campaign finance reports.