The Richmond City Council and the Richmond School Board on Monday approved a scaled-back version of Mayor Levar Stoney’s education compact, an agreement among the three elected arms of Richmond government and the Richmond Public Schools administration to work together and improve the long-struggling school division.
“I understand the citizens don’t want the mayor to run the school system. Trust me, I understand,” Stoney said. “What they do want is for the mayor to find the right balance between supporting the needs of the school system and ensuring there’s a long-term return on the investment we make in public education and our families.”
By signing off on the resolution, the council and the board agreed to hold quarterly joint meetings with Stoney and the school system’s superintendent.
They also formed an “education compact team,” made up of three members from each body; two members from the mayor’s office; two members from the schools administration; six representatives from state government and the private sector who are appointed by the mayor; and six RPS staff members, parents or students appointed by the board.
The team will hold monthly public meetings and make policy recommendations, but will not usurp the School Board’s decision-making authority.
In addition to the team, the compact forms a “children’s Cabinet,” made up of representatives from various city agencies whose work “directly affect children and families,” according to the resolution.
“We look forward to working in a cooperative and collaborative way with both the School Board and the mayor’s office to move our city forward, not only as a whole but in particular for our children,” said Chris A. Hilbert, council president and the 3rd District representative.
The approved resolution, labeled a “first stage,” is largely unchanged from the version discussed at the last joint meeting, held in June.
One difference: It requires the mayor and the superintendent to attend the joint meetings, not simply send a representative. It also requires City Council and School Board approval for the compact team’s six appointments from state government and the private sector; the previous draft required sign-off from only the council’s and board’s leadership.
“It compels the mayor and superintendent to attend, so hopefully that will mean more buy-in from everyone involved,” said 5th District council representative Parker C. Agelasto, who said he asked for the amendment.
Little discussion occurred Monday before the council unanimously approved the compact. The special joint meeting, where Stoney gave brief remarks and the council vote occurred, lasted 15 minutes. The School Board took up the matter and approved it in about five minutes at the beginning of its regularly scheduled meeting, which was held after the special joint meeting.
“We’ve studied this document several times with City Council as well as receiving input from the public,” said Dawn Page, the School Board chairwoman and 8th District representative. “The public’s input was very valuable and was demonstrated in the document.”
In February, Stoney’s administration released the first draft of the education compact, his administration’s attempt to formalize collaboration among his office, the City Council, the School Board and the RPS administration with the goal of improving public education and supporting the city’s students, many of whom live in poverty. The mayor said often that the compact was intended to support the “whole child.”
The mayor’s office held a series of community meetings in the spring to gather public input. Facing criticism from education advocates and some City Council and School Board members, Stoney stripped the draft of its measurable academic goals, leaving only the “framework,” by the time the mayor, council and board convened for the first joint meeting in June.
Thad Williamson, a senior adviser to the mayor who has overseen the compact rollout, said goals and accountability measures will be reintegrated later on. The administration views the compact as a multiyear process to “turn the ship around,” he said.
“Getting off to a good start and getting buy-in on the collaborative process and getting people on the record is hugely important,” Williamson said. “Even when things are challenging, which I’m sure they will be at certain points, we’re all in the boat together. There’s no getting off now.”