Less than three months after assuming office, some newly minted Richmond School Board members may have run afoul of one of their key endorsement organizations.
“As leader of an organization that just last year endorsed the candidacies of many of the current school board members, many of our members have great concerns with the votes that took place last week,” says Richmond Crusade for Voters President Antione Green.
Green's own misgivings are with the Board's March 16 approval of a proposed budget despite continuing objections from two board members that Superintendent Yvonne Brandon had not provided any detail with her $270 million proposal. The board also passed a so-called “gag rule” provision that potentially prohibits board members from speaking against issues and holds them “accountable by … the district's chief legal counsel.”
“We do have some great concerns,” Green says, particularly about the budget issue. “It's important to me, just in terms of transparency and making that information available not only for the School Board members, but also making that information available for the taxpayers of the city.”
Two newly elected members, Don Coleman and Norma Murdoch-Kitt, voted in favor of the budget, as did all veteran board members, including Chairwoman Chandra Smith. Two members who won election in November, Kim Gray and Dawn Page, voted against the budget proposal, citing objections similar to Green's. Adria Graham Scott abstained.
Green said he has heard from an overwhelmingly negative field of complaining Crusade members, many frustrated that the new board has failed to provide the transparency and accountability it promised during an election that saw more than half the School Board replaced.
The new board's passage of Brandon's budget is troubling “in light of what happened around this time last year,” Green says, referencing one of a handful of damning audits of schools released by the city's auditor, Umesh Dalal. “We learned $14 million was mismanaged by the school system. That being said, that's all the more reason why … there should be transparency and we should know detail for detail where the money is going to be spent.”
Brandon's predecessor, Deborah Jewell-Sherman, announced her early retirement shortly after results of one such city audit were published.
Green says his members also are expressing themselves about the board's adopted “communications protocol” -- an pledge that board members are to sign agreeing to not disagree publicly with the board's majority. Those who violate the pact are subject to disciplinary action from the board's legal counsel.