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OPINION: Dream Big 

If the oldest, continuous lawmaking body in the New World can legalize pot and eliminate the death penalty, then it ought to be able to get these schools fixed.

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Mayor Levar Stoney, School Superintendent Jason Kamras and the various elected officials who routinely suck up to them say they are tired of talking about who will build the new George Wythe High School and when it will be built.

But imagine how tired the public must be of listening to their mumbo-jumbo, blame-game of excuses in response to the protesters’ legitimate lament? And how tired are the five School Board members who took back the responsibility of building the schools and now find themselves personally attacked and vilified just for saying no to the mayor and superintendent’s wasteful use of money and deplorable delivery of services?

The schools built by the city and its project manager, AECOM, cost Richmond taxpayers at least $30 million more than the counties would have paid and every building was delivered months late. AECOM got paid more than $5 million to hand out work to its favored contractors, and the mayor got to look like a wheeler-dealer – leading to $30,000 in campaign contributions from the city’s vendors. Thank God five courageous School Board members finally started doing the math. What else, they asked, could we have done with that $30 million?

I say to everyone involved: Dream big and expect more from the School Board and the city. Don’t be distracted by the shameless showmanship of Stoney, our mayor-on-the-make who has repeatedly demonstrated that the city is his stepping stone. He’s a fellow who will do and say just about anything to move his political star up and out of the city limits. Don’t forget the lie-laced op-ed Stoney wrote for the New York Times in which he portrayed himself as the hero of last summer’s protests. The New York Times and the Richmond Times-Dispatch each had to run articles correcting Stoney’s version of events. Said Stoney of his piece, “the article speaks for itself.”

So, folks, keep fighting and don’t feel sorry for anybody but the students and the taxpayers. Negotiate not just for a new building, but a school with all the bells and whistles with top-notch athletic facilities and landscaped grounds, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, weight room and athletic equipment to rival anything the county schools have. Demand computer resources classes, and certifications so that every child who graduates is headed to college or already has the training to get a job that pays more than minimum wage. Ask for a sound and film studio to support a world-class drama and performing arts school – think Juilliard South.

Stop begging for piecemeal progress on fixing the infrastructure of our dilapidated school buildings. And stop believing in Kamras’ cute slogan about a bathroom blitz to fix the toilets in our schools. Pick up the phone and call the plumber. Reach out to every school system in the Commonwealth and invite it to come to Richmond and demand the members of the Virginia General Assembly step up.

If the oldest, continuous lawmaking body in the New World can legalize pot and eliminate the death penalty, then it ought to be able to get these schools fixed.

Demand more than we got for Huguenot High School – an overpriced building built on the cheap and in a rush with a gym floor that sinks and a roof that leaks. School Board members were recently informed that the gymnasium floor in the new River City Middle School is also sinking.

Demand professional pay for the teachers the School Board hires so that they don’t have to take second jobs to support their families. Pay them properly to come to school every day instead of calling in when they are tired of having to pay for school supplies out of their own pockets.

And don’t just come to a hastily called news conference outside of your school to read talking points prepared by people with ties to the Mayor’s Office. Come to City Hall and let folks know that you plan to stay until you get the answers and action needed to create a system that has outstanding schools in every part of the city, regardless of ZIP code, regardless of who the mayor or school superintendent is and regardless of who their BFF – best friend forever – is this week.

If you are truly dedicated to all of our children, then show it and make sure everyone knows it.

Until the General Assembly wises up and give school boards in Virginia the power to raise taxes, let the mayor and the business community know that if they could find the money for the 6th Street Marketplace, the Washington Football Team, the Carpenter Center, the Landmark Theater, Navy Hill and, yes, that damn casino, then they can find the money to fast-track building a school.

And while you’re at it, demand that the School Board enforce already existing policy that forbids the superintendent from getting roiled up in city politics. If he is doing his job properly, he should have no time to pal around and be best buddies with the mayor and his cronies.

In case you haven’t been paying attention lately, our kids can’t read and we have the lowest graduation rate in the Commonwealth.

Carol A.O. Wolf is a former newspaper reporter who served on the Richmond School Board from 2002 to 2008. She writes regularly about the Richmond Public Schools at saveourschools-getrealrichmond.blogspot.com.

Opinions on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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