On Monday, the Richmond School Board opted to spend $105,000 to put some Band-Aids on the sucking chest wound of George Mason Elementary School, a decrepit old building that was last renovated back in 1980, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono were still making records and Mikhail Gorbachev was the new kid on the Soviet Politburo.
That 105K is still $33,000 less than the amount on the check that Richmond cut to the Washington Redskins for the privilege of watching the team’s millionaire athletes practice here in town for a few weeks. Richmond’s previous mayor, Dwight Jones, drove such a hard bargain with the Skins that the city is on the hook to the team for half a million dollars a year. Whatever the city doesn’t provide in in-kind services, it pays in cash.
Which is nuts.
Redskins president Bruce Allen says the team is coming out on the short end of the stick because of all its travel expenses, and the team argues that it delivers more than $500,000 a year to Richmond in taxes and charitable contributions. Maybe, maybe not — but the numbers don’t look so hot when you factor in the millions spent on the training facility itself.
And whatever publicity Richmond might be getting out of the deal can’t begin to stack up against the need to improve Richmond’s schools. Fixing them would do more for the city than any sports or entertainment offering possibly could. As any real estate agent will tell you, schools are the top concern for most people who are looking to relocate. They’re the main reason young families move out of Richmond to the counties, and a major reason families from the counties don’t move into the city.
Nobody from outside the area is ever going to look at the city and say: “I’m going to move to Richmond. My kid will have to sweep rat droppings off his desk at school and his teachers will have to wear surgical masks because the air is so bad, but at least I won’t have to drive far to watch Kirk Cousins run drills.”
Practical considerations like that count for a lot. But so do simple decency and common sense. The Washington Redskins team is worth $2.95 billion, making it one of the richest teams on the planet. Not a single player will make less than $465,000 this year, and many will make a great deal more. The Redskins have a thousand and one ways to make money, and don’t need Richmond’s help to do so. But Richmond’s schools have no other source of revenue for repairs and improvements.
Mayor Levar Stoney reportedly is now trying to do something about the city’s boneheaded deal with the team. Good. Let’s hope he succeeds. The city has more important people to take care of.