Black Withholds School Funds,Risks Job Status 

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Richmond's Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Harry Black is withholding approved city funding to Richmond Public Schools, apparently in violation of a City Council ordinance that could cost Black his job.

Reacting to Black's withholding of 2006-07 funding to schools, City Council's '07-'08 budget included language making it a Class 3 misdemeanor to withhold funds approved by City Council.

The provision states that employees who knowingly withhold funds from schools are "jointly and severally liable" to council and the School Board, and if found guilty are ineligible for current or future city government employment.

"I'm not surprised," School Board Vice Chairwoman Lisa Dawson says. "Council has said by ordinance that they want the money dispersed … and they want it dispersed in full."

During the previous budget cycle, Black said he withheld money from schools as leverage to force the school system to submit to a financial audit.

Schools administration has since complied with the auditor's demands -- initially insisted upon by Mayor L. Douglas Wilder — and Richmond Auditor Umesh Dalal has said he's satisfied with the level of cooperation he's received.

Wilder and Black's reasoning for withholding money "didn't hold much water then — and it certainly holds no water now," Dawson says.

A source familiar with the situation says Black is "making some distinction" between cash dispersals and budget dispersals, though the source could not specify what that distinction was.

City Council Chief of Staff Daisy Weaver confirms that schools "did not receive 100 percent of their [budget] request" last week. That request, sent July 12, was for $88,780, but only $66,585 was wired to schools.

"I don't know the reason. I can't comment on that — or whether there was any accompanying documentation with the reasons," Weaver says, citing additional sections of city code that say Black, in his capacity as director of finance, is "required to state in writing that there is not cash on hand or that funds are not available."

Black didn't return a phone call seeking comment by press time. A lawsuit filed by Richmond Public Schools in the spring against Wilder and the city asked a judge to force Black to hand over the money. The judge denied the request.

The School Board's assistant superintendent of finance and operations, Thomas E. Sheeran, said last week that Black still has not provided full funding from the 2007 budget, though he could not put a dollar figure on the amount withheld: "I know that's in the multiple $100,000 range." S

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