RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – Richmond city officials are considering legally challenging a referendum or question on the November ballot to be voted on by residents. The referendum would change the city charter, forcing the mayor to come up with a plan to fully modernize and fund all of Richmond’s aging schools, within six months, without raising taxes.
The advocate behind the effort, attorney Paul Goldman, who worked in former governor Doug Wilder’s administration, raised funds to help petitioners gather more than 16,000 signatures. Goldman succeeded, and the referendum is now slated to be on ballot, in the hands of the people. It would ultimately still need to be voted on by the General Assembly and signed by the governor.
Goldman fought back against the effort by some city officials, and city council members to stymie his effort.
“Let me see if I understand this,” said Goldman in front of City Hall. “The people who have been claiming to be for school modernization for all these years… all of a sudden they’re against the only proposal that might actually get school modernization?”
In 2015, the Richmond School Board voted on a plan to modernize all schools, totaling about $563 million. The plan came after 18 months of research by a Facilities Task Force committee within the School Board. It involves rebuilding, renovating and rezoning Richmond schools, according to City Councilwoman Kristen Larson. Larson co-chaired the task force with City Councilwoman Kim Gray. Both served on the school board in 2015.
Larson says it’s unrealistic to find funding in such a drastic and short period of time, as six months. She also says that the City Council is awaiting reaffirmation of the school facilities plan by the current School Board, in order to then work it into future budgets.
Goldman questions why the 2015 plan hasn’t been fully funded already and has no issue with funding school modernization in phases.
“Bottom line is this… they have had years. The people are fed up,” said Goldman.
“We’ve got young children in schools, who are trying to learn, and their teachers are wearing masks. Rocks are falling on their heads from the ceilings. And that is intolerable,” said Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond.
Loupassi supports the measure, forcing the city to put money for school repairs where their mouth is, finding an estimated $563 million. Ongoing reports from NBC12 show schools getting shut down for mold, leaks, falling ceilings, and other infrastructure failures.
However, the city attorney argues the ballot question doesn’t technically fit into the required category of changing city government structure or administration. Goldman says he’s ready to battle that move.
“Wait a minute. Asking the mayor to come up with a plan to fix the schools, somehow is not the administration… What is the administration of the government?” questioned Goldman.
Larson says the measure is rushed, and unrealistic.
“We need to make sure it’s done in a responsible way,” said Larson.
The Richmond School Board finalized a plan to fix schools in 2015. However, the funding is far from being identified. Larson says the city still has careful steps before the money is finalized.
“Work is being done. The school board is looking at the needs. They’re looking at this report that was put out in 2015. So this report is still fresh,” continued Larson.