Monday, August 18, 2014

Mayor Jones Prepared Remarks Concerning Richmond Public Schools' Funding Needs


In just 15 days, Richmond’s children will be heading back to classrooms all across the city, and I wanted to take this time to address the funding needs that we’ve all heard about of late with respect to school facilities.

Education has been a priority for me since I took office, and it remains a priority.  I believe that the investment we, as a city, make in our children is the best investment we can make. That’s why I’ve pushed for and built new schools, representing over $170 million dollars in investment – am building the first new high school in 40 years – and have increased the schools maintenance budget by nearly 700%. We’ve reduced capital funding in other areas to help with school needs.

I’m encouraged that we also have a Governor that wants to increase the focus on the education and general welfare of youth through 21 years of age. Last week, our Governor established a Children’s Cabinet.  The initiative, in part, is meant to address students in high poverty, low-achieving school districts, and I commend Governor McAuliffe for focusing on youth in our communities. We need the support.

The Governor’s announcement came only days after our own school district issued a preliminary report listing $35 million in repairs needed throughout Richmond City schools. In fact, for many months, when it comes to schools, the focus has been almost solely on fixing HVAC systems and roof repairs – with some even suggesting that a facilities gap is what leads to an achievement gap.

I agree that we need proper facilities within which to educate our children.  And every maintenance request that we’ve received from Richmond Public Schools has been fully funded. In fact, my Administration has provided the largest increase of capital funding and maintenance funding in decades.

But I’m here today to say that we cannot address the issue of school maintenance in a silo, cut off from other issues that we face in our school system. Performance, enrollment, graduation and dropout rates have to be at the core of the discussion when it comes to doing the best we can for our children. We do a disservice to our taxpayers when we don’t take a comprehensive approach.

In the last few months the discussion about Richmond Public Schools has centered on the state of the facilities. The task force that issued the preliminary report last week did a good and necessary job of pointing out the needed repairs, and I commend them.

However, that task force, in its own report stated that many, if not most, of these issues were present in reports dating as far back as 2002. It’s clear that the neglect that is now being focused on is neglect that did not happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight.

We also have to acknowledge that little attention has been given to the fact that changing demographics, population patterns, and program needs must be factored in.  Also, the much needed conversation concerning right-sizing still has not taken place. As hard as it may be for the School Board to tackle these tough decisions, we’ve simply got to move past the tough obstacles to determine what is best for our students.
Enrollment in Richmond City Schools has steadily declined for four decades. Our school system is presently serving less than half of the students that we once served.

Enrollment in our schools has fallen, even as our population has grown. Now, Superintendent Bedden has done a great job in bringing to light the maintenance needs of the school system. He has also, thankfully, indicated that he wishes to initiate a citywide assessment of schools relative to demand.  I want to underscore the urgency of conducting this study so that we will know where and when to invest scarce dollars.
This is the responsible thing to do before we can wisely invest our limited resources. And the matter of limited resources is not only a concern because of our dwindling or flat revenues in the city; the State just last week has asked us to brace for more cuts as well.

Fixing our schools has to be defined beyond improving buildings, and must include improved outcomes.  If you only look to the schools that are brand new, for example, they have beautiful new facilities, and poor student performance. Two of the three new schools we have opened are on warning status with their accreditation.
In 2010, 100% of our Schools were accredited and held that status for the next three years.  These are the same schools that are now being underscored for decades of neglect regarding maintenance repairs.

Presently, 30 of our 44 schools are in warning status with their accreditations, because of tougher test score standards. Richmond Public Schools has an on-time graduation rate of 76% - the lowest for all students in the state. We have a cohort drop-out rate of 17% - the highest in the state for all students.

The problems that our schools face go well beyond building maintenance repairs.  I will not stand by any longer while the real discussion that needs to be highlighted goes ignored. I’ve heard numbers get thrown about ranging from $35 million, $100 million, to even $1 billion for repairs and modernization -- all while the city is running under-enrolled schools that are expensive to maintain and that are under performing.

Just a few months ago, there was talk about how at the middle school level, we have schools that average 400 to 600 fewer students per building than similar schools in the surrounding counties. In our high schools, we have 500 to 800 fewer students than in similar schools in the counties. It was said that the schools need a “true plan” for how to achieve economies of scale – but we have not seen any such plan.

With respect to improving student performance, a plan was submitted by the interim Superintendent in October of last year, but that plan came up short and did not meet School Board expectations.  Since that time, we haven’t seen a plan addressing exactly HOW Richmond Public Schools will improve student performance.
I’ve expressed these concerns to Dr. Bedden, and I’m proposing a course of action that we can take together.

As Mayor, my job is to manage competing interests. As much as I wish the city had the revenue stream to write a check for all of our needs – things like putting more police officers and firefighters on the streets, maintaining an aging public infrastructure, developing our Riverfront, building a cycling infrastructure, paving streets, reducing poverty – but we simply don’t have the necessary resources to do everything that we’d like to do. With the school system suggesting that they may be asking for as much as $100 million in maintenance, we need to have a very serious conversation about the state of affairs before we are forced into having to raise taxes to cover those projected costs.

I want to be clear; I don’t want to raise taxes. I want to cut taxes. We already have the highest taxes in central Virginia, which hits everyone hard. But at the same time, I know that everyone wants a strong and sustainable school system. So it is imperative that we undertake the due diligence necessary to ensure that the money we do have and the money we will seek is invested wisely. We must be sure that we’ve explored all options for sharing the financial burden.

That is why I’ve begun reach out to business and finance experts to research and explore to the options available to address the needs. There are several things that need to be immediately explored so that by the next budget cycle we can act from an informed position.

1.    We need to explore financing options that may be available to support our needs. These include:

  • The use of third-party financing models like public-private partnerships and that can fund repairs while producing renewable energy and energy efficiency projects;  the savings from which can repay the private company.
  • The possible use of tax-exempt private activity bonds for the construction of school facilities that could be leased back to the school system.
  • A look at available tax credits that can be utilized, at the state and federal level and a look at what changes ought to be sought to jump start the use of available tax credits; including also the possible advocacy of an entirely new education tax credit.
  • Available borrowing options and the implications for the city’s general revenue fund and/or real estate tax rate.
  • Possible use of capital leases whereby a private company would finance and build a school and lease it back to RPS, who would ultimately own it at the end of the lease period.
The last option, involving capital leases, is something we are already exploring with respect to building the new school in Highland Grove. If this option proves viable, then the money currently budgeted for Overby-Sheppard construction can be reprogrammed for other school capital needs, including some of the emergency needs.

2.    At the same time, the School Board must undertake the work to look at the growth areas, changing demographics, population patterns, and program needs to determine how many schools should remain operational in our system. This is what is needed in order for us to move forward together.
This issue of right-sizing is paramount in order to know where to invest our dollars. For example, we simply must know:

  • what schools are no longer needed,
  • where to build new schools, 
  • where are we faced with continued declining enrollment, 
  • what transportation strategies are needed, 
  • what are the housing trends,
  • birth rates, etc.
I believe we can offer better education with lower costs.  Sometimes less is actually more, and we have to make sure the taxpayers are getting every dollar worth.

There are many talented people invested in our city who can conduct this much-needed financial and operational review so that all aspects of this discussion will get the attention needed. Ideally, by the time we receive the School Board’s prioritized listing in November and we begin the process of developing our budget for the next fiscal year, we will have the data, plans and strategy we need to allocate funding appropriately and wisely.

Building a strong and sustainable school system is a top priority for the city. We all know that strong and vibrant neighborhoods come about, in part, because of strong schools that bring out the best in all our children. In the context of addressing poverty in our city, we’ve started the process of collaborating with schools through the use of our anti-poverty commission. I’ve been talking about the role of schools and the need for community centered schools. I get it! And my record shows that I’ve been walking the talk.

A few years ago, I said that we needed to stop celebrating mediocrity when it came to our schools. That we have got to let go of the mediocrity and embrace excellence. I don’t want the distraction of poor building maintenance to keep us from focusing on teaching our kids and maximizing the potential of every last child in the City of Richmond. I’m taking these steps to ensure that that doesn’t continue to happen.


I’d like to close with this. A few months ago, when I met with the students from Open High, I was moved by their passion to speak up for not just their own school conditions, but for students all across the city. There was one young lady who said that while the conditions at Open were good for an old building, that what they enjoyed most was what was happening inside their classroom. Let’s work to bring that experience to every school in the city of Richmond. Let’s work to enrich the inner experience, even as we improve the outer.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

GRTC Announces Scheduling Changes to Several Routes



~Scheduling changes are effective August 24, 2014~

The following routes will have significant schedule changes.
     Routes: 11, 43, 62, 101
     New Route: 21 Brook Azalea
     Discontinued Routes: 22 and 67

     Routes 24, 44, 45 and 72-73 will have Transfer Plaza Bay changes.

Routes that serve the Temporary Transfer Plaza may have minor schedule changes.  Please check the new printed public timetables/schedules available closer to August 24.


Look for new individual route schedules on ridegrtc.com, closer to August 24, 2014, or call the Customer Service Center at 804-358-GRTC (4782).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Online Survey Launched to Determine Space Needs for Area Artists, Arts Organizations and Creative Businesses


The City of Richmond is partnering with CultureWorks, the Cameron Foundation and City of Petersburg to conduct a major online survey of artists, individuals involved with arts organizations and creative businesses in the region to determine the feasibility of creating one or more multi-use arts facilities. The survey will conclude on September 5, 2014.

This effort represents a collaboration of multiple partners, including The Cameron Foundation, Artspace Projects, CultureWorks, and the cities of Richmond and Petersburg. Artspace Projects, the nation’s leading developer for the arts, will use the survey to identify the types and number of spaces needed by those who are part of the area’s creative economy. The results of the survey will help Artspace Projects determine the size of the market in Richmond and Petersburg region for affordable live/work housing, studio and public space of various kinds.

The survey is the second phase of a scope of work that began last year when an Artspace Projects team conducted preliminary feasibility visits in Richmond and Petersburg. If the survey identifies a market for one or more Artspace Projects developments and the community decides to proceed, survey results will inform both the project concept and site selection as well as provide data on affordability. The survey results will also impact specific design and programmatic decisions, such as square footage, parking spaces, types of shared creative spaces to include, rent levels, etc. Artists who take the survey will have the option of being among the first to be informed of project developments, including leasing opportunities.

Additional information about the survey is available at www.creativespacesurvey.org, where interested artists, arts organizations and creative businesses are encouraged to take the survey.

“This project has something to offer residents who are involved with a creative pursuit or organization as it is a unique tool that can help the City revitalize and inject positive energy into some of our most underinvested neighborhoods,” said Lee Downey, director of the City of Richmond’s Department of Economic and Community Development. “Growing the creative economy will not only help grow the overall local economy, but also make it more diverse and more resilient to economic downturns.”


Friday, June 20, 2014

Richmond Earns Top Ranking for Small Business Friendliness


The City of Richmond recently received recognition for being a national leader in overall small business friendliness. Finishing as the 10th best city, Richmond earned an A grade for its small business friendly policies and earned an A+ for the friendliness of its licensing rules.

“Receiving this honor acknowledges the City’s continued efforts to provide quality resources to our local businesses,” said Mayor Dwight C. Jones. “Helping entrepreneurs and local businesses grow and thrive is central to the City’s anti-poverty strategy. By being a ‘business-friendly’ city, we are also creating local jobs and advancing our neighborhood revitalization efforts.” 

Thumbtack, a consumer service headquartered in San Francisco, partnered with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to conduct a survey of more than 12,000 small businesses nationwide. The Thumbtack.com Small Business Friendliness Survey is the largest survey of its kind and is the only survey to obtain data from an extensive, nationwide sample of small business owners to determine the most business-friendly locations.

Some of the key findings for Richmond include:

Richmond earned an A+ for the ease of starting a business, and was the easiest place in the southern United States to start one, improving from a B+ last year.


Richmond excelled in the friendliness of its licensing and its environmental regulations, earning A+ in both categories.


Richmond was the 6th best city in the nation for starting a small business.

The full survey results are available at http://www.thumbtack.com/va/richmond. Thumbtack.com and the Kauffman Foundation evaluated most states and 82 cities against one another along more than a dozen metrics that business owners say are critical to a friendly business environment. The full methodology paper can be found at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/b8u0zjwcc99oews/thumbtack%202014%20final%20methodology%20paper.pdf.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mayor Jones Issues Statement on the Passing of Ray Boone


Richmond, VA – Mayor Dwight C. Jones issued the following statement in respect to the passing of Richmond Free Press founder, publisher and editor Raymond H. Boone, Sr.:

“The passing of Ray Boone really marks the end of a personality who was an integral part of our city. His stalwart support for the black community, for economic justice and fairness paved the way for change in so many ways. As Founder/Editor/Publisher of the Richmond Free Press, week after week, he offered many a window into the world of black Richmond. He provided visibility for people who might otherwise be invisible to some. He voiced concerns and desires in ways that might not otherwise have gotten expressed. When I think of Ray, the word that comes to mind for me is ‘crusader.’ It’s clear to me that Ray Boone was a giant of a personality that won’t soon be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this time of loss.”


Monday, June 2, 2014

Mayor Addresses Recent Incidents of Crimes Involving Children


Mayor Dwight C. Jones and Richmond Police Chief Ray Tarasovic addressed media today regarding recent incidents of crimes involving children. The following are Mayor Jones’ remarks as prepared for delivery for today’s press briefing.

Thank you for joining me here this morning.

I wish we could be meeting under better circumstances, but I’m here with Police Chief Tarasovic to talk about some of the challenges we’ve been facing recently.

As Mayor, one of the standards I’ve set is for prompt notification – no matter what time of day or night – when there is a major crime incident in the city and incidents involving children. Over time, I’ve taken calls from our chief at 1:00 a.m. in the morning, 4:00 a.m. in the morning, and at various other times.

It’s horrible when I receive the calls that a tragedy has occurred somewhere in our city. The only thing worse is the Police Chief having to make the call to report in on something tragic that has sadly occurred. Today, I feel that I’ve been getting too many of those calls lately, and that’s what I’m here to speak about.

I want to first thank our Police Chief and the men and women of our police force for the hard work they have been doing. They are often on the scene of these incidents in less than a minute. They have a strong case-closing rate and have actually improved our overall crime statistics in recent years. They do a fine job of standing for excellence, integrity and justice.

But we must do more.

In February, a 7-year old was struck by a random bullet. In May, a 5-year old was struck. This past weekend, a 2-year old.

No child should grow up gathering memories of being shot in their neighborhood. That is unacceptable, and I am outraged.

We should all be outraged at this and we must all recognize that this is not just a policing problem, this is a community problem.

What I want to do today is call on the community to help us. Rise up against this type of behavior. If you see something, say something.

We’ve got to combat this together.

I can’t stress enough the importance of the community’s involvement in our efforts. For example, our efforts at sorting out what happened this past weekend when the 23 month old child was shot were greatly aided by the help of neighbors - neighbors who wanted the correct information to be known.

But we still have several cases of children being harmed where no one has come forward with information.  Cases where many people were present and know what happened, but have chosen not to get involved.

I implore you to take a stand and get involved. Take a stand against criminal activity in your communities.

Now there are several things we are continuing to work on to improve safety in our communities.

  • Our community policing model is designed to forge relationships with the police in neighborhoods. We’ve actually intensified our community policing model.
  • Police Chief Tarasovic has also recently reinstituted the sector community meetings, the first of which was held this past Saturday.
  • These problem-solving workshops are designed to help everyone work together and to give the public an opportunity to voice concerns, come up with solutions and craft a plan of action.
  • Get involved with these meetings as they come up in your communities. We are going to also use reverse 911 calls for upcoming meetings to help ensure that people know about these meetings and are more likely to get involved.
  • We continue to work to get illegal guns off the street – a major factor as it relates to violent crime. Since the 22nd of May, our police force got 14 illegal guns off the streets over a 9 day period.  And we must do everything we can to close loopholes and get illegal guns off the streets – an effort I’ve joined over 1,000 Mayor in as a part of Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns.
  • In June, we will be getting assistance from the State with our annual Fugitive and Firearms Initiative. Every year our police department seizes large numbers of illegal guns with the help of area law enforcement partners. Last year 146 weapons were taken off of the street. The effort also focuses on locating persons wanted for crimes.
  • We continue our community walks – door to door. I’ve participated in past walks and will be participating in more.  This provides an opportunity for us to go directly to the public, to hear concerns, provide information, and to gather ideas.
  • Our faith leaders remain active – working to build a sense of community and to help with healing and nurturing troubled areas of our city. Embrace these faith leaders and work with them to build better neighborhoods.
Our efforts have been consistent and working in many ways – thankfully. And I have no doubt that these efforts are saving somebody’s life.

Now I think we all know that when it comes to crime and criminal activity, there is no instant panacea and there never will be. But if we work together, we can strengthen our ability to prevent rather than simply solve crimes. And one of the things that I want the community to understand is that we must address this issue on all fronts.

One of the reasons I’ve focused so heavily on poverty mitigation and economic development strategies for our city is because I know that crime is, in large part, inextricably a symptom of poverty. Our city is paying a heavy economic and social price for cramming the poor into concentrated areas. As Mayor, my job is to work to steer us in the direction that will create quality of life for everyone. And we are consistently working on those things that will lead to improved workforce training and job opportunities, better educational outcomes and community schools, transportation options, and redevelopment of public housing. All of these things are preventative responses to crime and we must continue to work for those gains.

But we also must start right where we are and there are several things every individual can do right now:

  • Get to know the police officers who patrol your neighborhood.
  • Attend those neighborhood meetings hosted by your city council representatives or Richmond police.
  • Talk to young people about how they should conduct themselves and encourage your local high school to invite police in to get to know the students, for example.
  • And, if you see something, say something. Silence only empowers the wrong doers.
Communities can and must be proactive. And I have that same message across the board – be it incidents involving children, or robberies, or any incidents of crime in our city.

I recently met with merchants from Broad Street after the Victoria Jewelers Homicide.  I met with Muhammad Baig’s father. I felt and saw his grief. We’ve reached out to the families of the children recently harmed, like Marty Cobb’s family. And I make it a point to have more direct involvement when minors are involved.

These senseless acts of violence tear at the very fabric of our city, but as I tell everyone, we cannot give in. The only way we will succeed is if we work together, take ownership of what is happening in our streets, and not stand for it or give into it.



Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mayor Jones Issues Statement on Proposed Shockoe Bottom Development Ordinance


Mayor Jones issued the following statement concerning the anticipated vote on the Shockoe Bottom Development Ordinance:
 

“I was disappointed to read in the news media that certain Council members plan to vote against new jobs, tax revenue, and a Slavery Heritage site in Richmond. Doing that would hurt Richmond by leaving money on the table.
 

“That’s because keeping the ballpark on the Boulevard would restrict the revenue-producing potential of our most valuable piece of under-utilized land. That’s a bad business decision, and it demonstrates a failure to consider the needs of the city as a whole.
 

“This decision is surprising since they’ve chosen to vote against something without learning about it first. At no point have all City Council members been briefed on the most up-to-date information about all aspects of the plan. Council members are receiving the detailed information they requested, but most briefings have taken place in committee meetings or in lightly-attended informal sessions. Nevertheless, they now want to kill the project before hearing the information that staff, the developers and the baseball team have invested a great deal of time and expense to gather. This is the second time in less than a month that two members have tried to kill the plan without first understanding all the details.
 

“They fret that this process has taken a while, and I wish it could have moved more quickly too. But it’s important to remember that since we introduced the concept last November, we’ve presented Revitalize RVA to more than 50 community meetings attended by thousands of Richmonders. We’ve continually refined it along the way, in response to concerns raised by the community and City Council members. Moreover, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that a transformational economic development plan has taken time to complete properly. Anyone who’s ever bought a house knows that getting to closing can take a while, and this plan is like closing on 200 houses at once. It’s no suburban frozen yogurt shop or used car lot. Big cities do big things, and big things take time. Richmond’s still learning about that.
 

“For months, I’ve worked to build trust with City Council members under the leadership of Charles Samuels. That trust has been damaged.
 

“I intend to move forward on generating upwards of $10 million a year in new revenue for the City of Richmond. Here are the facts:
  • A Kroger, a Hyatt hotel, and new apartment buildings will help create more than 400 new jobs in a blighted area of Richmond. That’s a powerful business opportunity in a city with a 26% overall poverty rate, where some Council districts thrive and others are wracked by generations of joblessness.Unleashing the untapped potential of the Boulevard's 60 acres will produce at least as many jobs as Shockoe will produce, if not more.
  • The Shockoe development plan will benefit the community through an agreement to include at least a 40% minority business participation rate and at least a 20% minority ownership stake. Richmond has never seen community wealth-building commitments like these on a project this big.
  • After 400 years, this is Virginia’s first serious opportunity to build a Slavery Heritage site at the place where Virginia Union was born. There’s a reason this hasn’t happened before. It’s possible today because it’s part of a comprehensive economic development plan. If we pass up this opportunity now, it may never come again.
  • A new downtown ballpark—like Charlotte opened last month—will help keep the Flying Squirrels in Richmond, as certain Council members have pledged.
“The reaction of some Council members reminds me of some initial reactions to the Redskins Training Camp and other economic development initiatives with Bon Secours. Many people did not recognize the benefit these projects would bring to our economy, but they have proven to be big successes. That’s why Richmond will have two NFL teams playing here this summer. It takes vision to get things done.
 

“There’s still time for Council members to change this hasty decision. I’ll present exhaustive details of this plan on Thursday.
 

“I encourage Council members to make informed decisions after Thursday, unless they simply don’t want to hear the facts.”