Council Throws Local Schools
Three schools slated to close at the end of the school year
in Richmond were granted reprieve when the Richmond City Council
unanimously committed $1.5 million for this school year on
late Tuesday evening. Though it has not yet been determined
where the money will come from, the funds will keep John F.
Kennedy High School, as well as Olinda and Grant elementary
schools open for the 2010-2011 school year.
The city council chamber was mostly packed with supporters
of Kennedy High School, with more than 40 people speaking out
in favor of saving the school.
One of the common concerns for people attending was the potential
for violence if Kennedy High School was to close.
“That school has got to stay operating,” said Antwon Cloird,
a longtime Richmond resident. “Or there’s going to be a blood
bath in Richmond.”
Cloird noted that closing Kennedy could result in students
being forced into other neighborhoods, some of which are plagued
by gang violence.
“There are lines that no man in Richmond crosses,” he said.
“ You aren’t going to send nobody from south side to Richmond
High. They gonna end up dead.”
Fabiola Gutierrez, 17, a Kennedy High senior, said closing
Kennedy would increase drop out rates.
“Richmond is not exactly the safest city to live in, so if
you put kids from different parts of the city or kids in different
gangs in another school it’s obviously going to cause conflict,”
Gutierrez said after her prepared public remarks. “Also it
would be even harder to go to school if it’s farther and you’ll
study even less and more people will drop out. If you have
to travel an hour on buses to get to school then you’re going
to be less motivated.”
Supporters also argued that Kennedy High School should stay
open for academic reasons.
“I am tired of hearing untruths about the school that I lead,”
said Kennedy High School Principal Roxanne Brown-Garcia. Brown-Garcia
said Kennedy High boasts AP classes and sends students to top
Brown-Garcia whipped the crowd into a frenzy.
“We may not have a brand new school,” she shouted over the
thunderous standing ovation she was receiving from the crowd,
“But we have passion. We have pride. Go Eagles!”
Though the decision to commit $1.5 million this year to keep
the schools open was unanimous, city council members said this
was not a permanent solution and that alternate funding sources
must be found.
It is the second straight year that the City Council has allocated
$1.5 million to keep the schools in Richmond open.
Though the council members all agreed on school funding, they
were not in agreement throughout much of the nearly six-hour
meeting, at several points drawing boos and hisses from the
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Jeff Ritterman, center, and Nat
Bates clash over past votes.
In other business, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jeff
Ritterman introduced a resolution calling on President Barack
Obama for a new “New Deal,” similar to the one in the 1930s
that created jobs for people during the Great Depression. “I
think we all know that we’re in the worst economic crisis since
the Great Depression and we need to find a way to reverse that,”
McLaughlin said. “We need to move forward in a way that really
advances us all,” she added, calling for a new Works Progress
Administration program to put people to work.
McLaughlin said Richmond was reeling from high unemployment–city
statistics put local jobless figures at more than 18 percent,
nearly double the state average–and in dire need of an infusion
of federal funds.
McLaughlin’s resolution drew criticism from Council members
Nathaniel Bates and Maria Viramontes, who claimed the mayor
had voted against measures that would lead to job creation,
such as bringing a Target to Richmond.
McLaughlin clashed repeatedly with Bates, her longtime council
adversary and one of her opponents in the mayoral election
set for November.
“If you’re serious about this economy turnaround, a lot of
it is going to have to be by the business community,” Bates
said. “Yet, mayor you voted against Target which brings in
about 300 employees and now you want the government to come
in and provide all these jobs.”
McLaughlin defended her votes, saying the specifics of those
measures would have been detrimental to the city of Richmond.
Despite the heated debate, the resolution passed unanimously.
The council also heard from over 30 other speakers, the majority
of whom came to the meeting to show support for the Office
of Neighborhood Safety. One resident held up large chunks of
asphalt which he claimed were lying in his street but assured
the city council he would return the materials to the city
“where they were found.”
The next city council meeting will be at the Civic Center
Plaza on September 20th at 6:30 p.m.