The public dust-up between the Richmond School Board and Mayor Dwight Jones over the school system's nearly $24 million budget gap didn't go unnoticed by Daisy Weaver. The former director of the city budget office and chief of staff to City Council knows that crafting a budget is an intricate process that requires extended cooperation and careful planning.
Weaver has a unique perspective. She's worked for both City Council and former Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who famously fired her in June 2005. On the same day, then-City Council President Manoli Loupassi, now a state delegate, hired her as council's first chief of staff. After six years, she retired in the fall.
Now she's running for the Richmond School Board. She'll challenge Kimberly Gray for her 2nd District seat this fall.
Style: So what have you been doing since your retirement?
Weaver: I currently work part time as the business administrator for First African Church and their nonprofit, which is the First African Education Center.
Why'd you decide to run for the School Board?
Well, I think my experience with city government might help to offer some insight in the current discussions. I like to work toward some effective relationships and develop some effective polices to help the school system. And I have significant experience on working on city budgets and with city government. So basically, I'd like to use my experience to help the School Board.
You mentioned current issues. What did you make of the recent budget problems between the School Board and mayor?
Having worked on about 20 city budgets, one my concerns … is, when we get to budget time, it's usually an emotional time. We try to make decisions in a short time frame. And I've always felt the budget process … requires some long-term discussions and long-range planning. It's an ongoing discussion; it has to happen all year long.
How is the city going to build a first-tier school system if the discussion primarily is about cutting the budget, closing schools and eliminating school employees and teachers?
I think the whole dialogue about what to do for the school system needs to happen in a more meaningful way. … I think the discussion needs to focus on positive achievements. Generally during the budget-setting time, people are under pressure to meet a budget deadline, and they're under pressure to meet it in a balanced way. … Looking at a bunch of numbers is pretty painful in that little short interval, and so the good discussion and dialogue needs to happen much earlier than what has typically happened during the budget-setting period.
It's well-known that Richmond loses middle-class families because of the perception that our public schools are inadequate. Those with the means eventually send their children to private schools or leave altogether for the suburbs. How do we reverse this cycle?
I do believe some great things have happened in elementary schools, and I have talked to a number of people that have been very pleased with their elementary experience. The tricky part for me seems to be the middle schools. ... When kids reach that age and parents understand that they're not going have quite as much interaction, perhaps, in the kid's life, and they're going off to middle school — that gets a little scary. So we need to think about what's happening in that middle-school transition and all the programs people want to see. I believe there's only one [international baccalaureate] middle school in the city. Probably needs to be another one. And we just need to have programs that make people want to stay and understand that the transition from elementary to middle school is extremely important, I think, in keeping parents in the school system.
Were you already considering running when all the budget problems happened?
I had given it some thought before the budget discussion, quite frankly. But I thought about it more seriously after I listened to the discussion. The schools have always been an interest of mine. I started my career as a teacher some years back and thought I would end up in, specifically, education administration. Of course, things took me in a little different direction.
I think it's important that we end up with a School Board that is ready to bring forth some action. I think it is important that this discussion be ongoing and that we make sure that there's access and diversity for all of the choices that are needed in this environment, because it's not just one thing that's going to work well across the board, I think, for students here in Richmond. S