Richmond School Board rebuts Coliseum project financing plan

RICHMOND — The Richmond School Board wants to hold city schools harmless from a possible funding hit caused by the Coliseum redevelopment project currently in front of the City Council.

The board on Nov. 18 approved a resolution presented by 3rd District School Board member Kenya Gibson saying the school system wants the power to “opt out of contributing its share of revenue to TIF [tax increment financing] district funds or other tax deals that fund city development projects.”

While it doesn’t specifically name the project, the resolution was a rebuttal to the financing of a plan currently being weighed by the council that would redevelop part of downtown Richmond, including a new arena, using TIF financing.

As part of the proposal, Mayor Levar Stoney and the nonprofit leading the effort, NH District Corp., want to create a TIF district of a swath of downtown that will make new real estate tax revenue — either from property assessments increasing or new construction or renovation projects — go to pay down the debt on the Coliseum redevelopment.

Benjamin F. Teresa, a professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, and community activist Allan-Charles Chipman presented to the board before the vote. Chipman's presentation said the school system could lose as much as $3.9 million in state funding annually because of the project.

“Development deals that erode school funds means we may not be able to provide necessary staff support, up-to-date technology or even working heat in our buildings,” Gibson said in a statement after the vote. “There is no question that protecting this from happening is within our purview as a board.”

School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page and 9th District School Board member Linda Owen were the opposing votes.

“No matter what we do here tonight, it’s up to the City Council,” Owen said before the vote.

Page said the resolution was overstepping the board’s authority.

Last year, Stoney said half of the surplus tax money that could be generated through the project would go to the city school system.

“We understand the School Board’s desire to ensure that school funding is held harmless, and the Navy Hill project will do much better than that,” Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said last week. “The mayor has said from the beginning that this project would benefit Richmond public schools.”

A vote on the project will not happen until at least January.

Henrico schools calendar to add days off for religious holidays

HENRICO — Henrico County’s school calendar next year includes days off for Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu holidays.

The county school system on Tuesday announced that it was seeking feedback online for its calendar for the 2020-21 school year. The district is down to two options, both of which include student holidays for various religious holidays.

One option — Version A — has a shorter winter break (Dec. 23-Jan. 3) but six student holidays, including days off for Yom Kippur (Sept. 28), Diwali (Nov. 13) and Eid al-Fitr (May 13). The other option — Version B — has two full weeks of winter break (Dec. 21-Jan. 3) and four student holidays. Both plans also include an off-day for Election Day (Nov. 3) and start the school year on Sept. 8, the day after Labor Day.

Both Henrico and Chesterfield County have announced that despite new flexibility from the state, they plan to open the day after Labor Day. Richmond and Hanover County’s draft calendars also call for the first day of school coming after Labor Day.

The final 2020-21 calendar is expected to be voted on by the county School Board at its Dec. 12 meeting. Feedback can be shared through Sunday at

William & Mary plans to raise tuition for freshmen by 3%

WILLIAMSBURG — The College of William & Mary is raising tuition.

The university’s governing board on Friday unanimously approved an increase to the tuition rate for incoming in-state freshmen. The new rate will be $17,957, up 3% compared to the class that started this fall.

Rising sophomores, juniors and seniors will not see an increase, the university said, as part of the William & Mary Promise, an initiative created in 2013 that guarantees the tuition that in-state students pay during their four years.

The board of visitors will set tuition for out-of-state undergraduate and graduate students, along with mandatory fees, in April.

Board extends contract of VSU president through June 30, 2024

ETTRICK — The board of visitors at Virginia State University has extended the contract of President Makola M. Abdullah.

The university announced Nov. 18 that Abdullah’s contract, which was originally set to expire in June 2021, will now run through June 30, 2024.

“During the Board’s performance review of President Abdullah, we expressed our satisfaction with his leadership over the past three years,” said rector Huron F. Winstead. “With President Abdullah’s vision and passion, we are confident he will continuously elevate the University with stability and academic excellence.”

Last year, HBCU Digest, an online blog that reports on the news of historically black colleges like VSU, named Virginia State the HBCU of the year. In 2017, Abdullah was named the male president of the year by the same outlet.

He was originally appointed to VSU’s top post in February 2016.

“I want to thank the Virginia State University Board of Visitors for their continued support,” Abdullah said in a statement. “I work with a team of dedicated administrators, faculty and staff who are committed in upholding a high standard of excellence by ensuring the University provides a transformative educational experience for our scholars.

“With the launching of the 2020-2025 bold and forward-thinking strategic plan, Preeminence with Purpose, we are poised to cultivate numerous opportunities of excellence for our students.”

Richmond school system again receives school nutrition award

RICHMOND — Richmond Public Schools has again received a school nutrition award.

The city school system was the only one in the Richmond region this year to win the Dorothy S. McAuliffe School Nutrition Award, which is given out by No Kid Hungry Virginia, an organization hoping to end childhood hunger. The award is given to school districts that “have gone above and beyond by operating all available federal child nutrition programs and achieving exceptional participation in the school breakfast program.”

The award was launched in 2017, and Richmond has won all three years.

“Schools play a critical role in connecting children with the nutrition they need to fuel their bodies and their brains,” said Claire Mansfield, No Kid Hungry Virginia’s state director. “We’re excited to honor more school districts this year. It’s thanks to strong public-private partnerships and commitments from community members, school leadership, teachers and school nutrition teams that we’ve been able to connect more schools — and students — with federal nutrition programs.”

Richmond was one of 12 repeat winners and three first-time winners.

Sweet Briar College will use gift to expand scholarship award

SWEET BRIAR — An anonymous gift will help Sweet Briar College expand its highest scholarship award.

The college announced Nov. 18 that a $5 million donation from an anonymous donor will allow for the expansion of the school’s prestigious Presidential Scholars Program, which offers full and partial tuition scholarships to students based on academic achievements and an invitation-only interview process.

Currently, just 30 students get the scholarships.

“These scholarships will help make Sweet Briar the college of choice for some of the nation’s brightest young women,” said Sweet Briar President Meredith Woo. “I am deeply grateful to our donor and I look forward to meeting the amazing students who will, thanks to her help, become Sweet Briar women.”

GMU recruiting doctoral students for special education program

FAIRFAX — George Mason University is recruiting doctoral students for its special education program.

The university’s special education faculty recently received three grants from the U.S. Department of Education and is now looking for up to 15 educators for a full-time doctoral studies program.

More information can be found at

— From staff reports

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and 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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