RPS press conference

In December, Superintendent Jason Kamras spoke to students during a news conference about a march calling for more funding.

In his first spending plan, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras proposed slashing $13 million from the division’s central office costs to offset a self-inflicted budget gap.

Kamras, approaching his one-year anniversary as schools chief next month, presented a draft budget to the Richmond School Board on Tuesday designed to address the division’s earlier decision to use some one-time money from the city toward recurring expenses, such as pay raises and new hires.

Unless Mayor Levar Stoney includes another allotment to bail out the system in his spending plan for the next fiscal year, which he has not yet introduced, the district could come up about $12 million short — without cuts.

In his presentation to the board, Kamras said he wanted to seek savings in the central office rather than touch schools.

“Reductions are never easy,” he said. “My proposal does not come lightly.”

His plan to make up the gap and also pay for a $2 million teacher step raise would leave $1 million worth of positions vacant. A breakdown of the specific positions that would be cut was not available Tuesday.

The school budgeting process in Richmond and across the state has become more painful since the Great Recession, when state education funding dropped and cities and counties were left to make up the difference. State education spending is down about 9 percent from the 2009 fiscal year.

In Richmond, state funding per student spending is down 19 percent from 2009; state funds accounts for about 45 percent of the division’s budget.

The city gave RPS a $12.5 million bump last year, for a total of $169.1 million compared with $158.9 million the previous year. The division ended the last fiscal year with about $417,000 left over.

Kamras’ cuts were welcomed by School Board member Jonathan Young, of the 4th District, who said teachers and children had historically been shortchanged by “a central office bureaucracy that has done more harm than good.”

Third District representative Kenya Gibson and the 2nd District’s Scott Barlow expressed concern with the proposed cuts.

“I’m heartbroken,” Gibson said, adding that the district should focus on what it needs rather than cuts. “It sends this message that we’ve been sitting on waste.”

Said Barlow: “I would prefer not to have to let any of them go.”

The $305.4 million operating budget Kamras is asking for represents an increase of about $4 million compared with the current year, with additions going toward a local match for Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed teacher raise and the second year of the district’s strategic plan.

The strategic plan’s next steps include launching new math curriculum, expanding the teacher residency program and working on a districtwide rezoning plan.

Plans to improve the district have historically foundered — most recently an extensive facilities plan in 2015 stalled because of the city’s lack of debt capacity.

“I don’t want the plan to be this nice shiny thing that sits on the shelf,” Kamras said. “I want it to be reality and reality costs.”

The governor in December proposed a 5 percent raise for teachers. Lawmakers, who already passed a 3 percent raise for next fiscal year, are currently debating whether to fund Northam’s proposal.

Educators across the state are planning a march Monday in Richmond to call on legislators to increase education spending, including funding Northam’s raise proposal.

The city school system gave teachers a 2 percent raise last year and the 3 percent salary increase proposed by Kamras, which would cost about $4.7 million, means the district would meet the state’s match for the 5 percent raise.

The board’s first budget work session is scheduled for Thursday. A public hearing on the budget is set for Feb. 4.

Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers K-12 schools and higher education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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