Last week, Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras met with community members for an open discussion on plans to improve Richmond Public Schools.
Kamras called the discussion a “Trust Town Hall,” announcing the event in an April 13 op-ed for the Richmond Times Dispatch. In the op-ed, Kamras wrote that the main issue he heard Richmonders express with RPS’s request for greater funding was that they didn’t trust the school system to use the funds effectively.
“I want to hear every one of your concerns, discuss what we might be able to do to address them, and attempt to earn your trust,” Kamras wrote of the Trust Town Hall event.
However, despite Kamras’s pitch, come the 23rd, the invitation didn’t fill the seats in the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School auditorium. The community turned out in small numbers, with only about 30 people attending the event.
“I honestly don’t even know what it is,” said one Richmond Public Schools teacher when asked what he thought of Kamras holding a “Trust Town Hall.”
Though Kamras welcomed disagreement and discussion with charisma and approachability, audience members didn’t shy from the hard-hitting questions. The first question asked of Kamras was about graduation rates in the cities schools. Data from the Department of Education shows that, between 2017 and 2018, Richmond had a decrease in graduation rates.
Paying teachers well to keep them working in the system, creating the best curriculums that interest and engage students, all while preparing them for real life, and providing support systems for students who face challenges in their school and home lives were just some of the methods Kamras said the school system could use to increase graduation rates.
The RTD column and “Trust Town Hall” discussion resulted in part from Kamras’ support of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s budget proposal.
“I believe in him and what he’s trying to do for the city,” Kamras said of the mayor. “And I don’t say that lightly.”
Stoney’s proposed budget would fund Richmond Public Schools’ budget for the upcoming fiscal year with an increase in the city’s property tax rate, from $1.20 per $100 of assessed value to $1.29, along with a cigarette tax of 50 cents per pack sold in the city. While the mayor’s budget is unlikely to be approved as proposed, it now seems likely that City Council will fully fund the budget amount requested by the School Board.
Many attendees wanted to discuss how the budget would be funded.
“I feel like it’s easy for you to say ‘Let’s raise taxes’ when you make $250 thousand a year,” one Richmond resident said to Kamras.
Last year, Richmond’s meal tax was raised to help fund school improvements.
“Clearly the tax last year — the meals tax — didn’t solve the problems,” said the same resident.
A few times during the discussion, Kamras directed the crowd to open the strategic-plan booklets that had been handed out. The Dreams4RPS strategic plan lays out the top 10 goals for the school system over the next five years. Among them were some of the main topics for Tuesday’s discussion, including graduation, teacher retention, and funding. The list also includes achieving 100% accreditation and aiming towards equity. The goals can be found listed in full on the RPS website.
One attendee’s concern was based in a lack of measurable goals.
“If I presented this to my boss today, I’d get fired,” said a resident. “I’d get fired because there’s no form of measurement within this plan.”
Kamras said a lot of the work to be done is in creating baseline data over the next few years.
“We don’t currently have some measurement of satisfaction,” Kamras said.
For that particular goal, teachers, students, and families will receive surveys in the coming years to help determine a baseline for satisfaction. Kamras also stressed that, for all ten of the main goals, which were approved unanimously by the school board, it’s going to be a long-term process.
“We didn’t get where we are in a few years,” Kamras said. “We’re not going to 100% climb out of it in a few years.”
Photo via Church Hill People’s News