Monday, September 28, 2015

Community Schools RPS

The price for Richmond’s children to attend schools that aren’t falling in and oozing sludge, have dangerously high levels of mold, or failing HVAC systems will be $500-$600 million dollars and take 15 years.
In working on the school facilities task force for the past year, I’ll take an educated guess that RPS will easily spend more than $500 million on facilities within the next 15 years, with or without a plan for reform.
In the near future there will be more forced schools closings due to structural or environmental failures. Large sums of money will be spent on short-term, band-aid efforts to continue the lifespan of outdated, inefficient mechanical equipment or outdoor classrooms to address overpopulation.
The fact is if the status quo – reaction – remains, money will not be used for new assets that will accrue capital and cost savings over time. The albatross that is failing facility cost will continue to drain necessary classroom resources, thus forcing the board to make damaging cuts to classroom education, as was seen in the leveling cuts this spring.
It’s a simple concept: if you don’t plan to manage your money, your money will manage you.
The path forward
This isn’t an impossible mountain to climb. In 2000, Cincinnati Public Schools faced a similar situation, the difference being the final price tag was $1 billion. After a year-long facilities master plan, stewarded by administration and vetted by the community, the system adopted a plan for reform and used a combination of state funds and a local bond referendum to secure the necessary funding for a 10-year plan.
In talking with Darlene Kamine who helped lead the reform effort, the key element that led to community buy-in (to pass the bond referendum) was the adoption of a community school model.
Darlene Kamine (NPR Marketplace, 2012)
What are community schools?
Community schools are asset-based, meaning that local resources and attributes drive programming, not outside voices or resources. A public-private partnership is established where the private organization has a physical location on-site and is managed by a resource coordinator. Essential to this model is creating an active school by offering after-school, weekend, and summer programming. Services not only address academic concerns, but must take into account the full physical, mental and emotional health of school children and their families.
Partnerships are developed with a range of private partners from universities (Orlando and Philadelphia), business/philanthropic organizations (Chicago and Cincinnati), or healthcare providers (NYC and Tulsa). In Orlando, University of Central Florida (UCF) signs a 20-year MOU with the lead agency partnership for the school. Check out Coalition for Community Schools, a terrific resource for all community school questions.
According to Lucas Weinsten at NYC’s National Center for Community Schools (NCCS), to achieve this dynamic model the key hurdles are establishing stable leadership, sustainable funding, and mutual respect through transparency and data sharing. That shouldn’t be a problem in Richmond, right?
The Cincinnati Model
To build the community schools recommended in the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) 2002-2014 Facilities Master Plan, the next 2 years were spent gaining public buy-in through listening and answering questions in community forms, establishing guiding principles and MOUs for partners, and conducting an assessment of school sites.
In 2003, funding was secured with the passage of a local bond referendum with money allocated from the state to implement a decade-long plan.
To lead implementation, CPS subcontracted Darlene Kamine to lead their Community Learning Center Initiative. This involved four 2.5 year planning cycles for 10-12 schools at a time. Deliverables for each cycle included:
  • Survey the existing assets and community
  • Establish a school-level vision for partnerships with goals to guide programming
  • Identify a school partner and develop a sustainable model for management
At the end of the cycle, CPS architects and contractors would contact Ms. Kamine to learn of the desired school vision to inform design and construction of facility improvements.
In 2014, this process completed and was received as a success! Ms. Kamine continued her work and founded the Community Learning Center Institute to further community school partnerships. Also, CPS is now in the process of making all their schools, community schools.
Evans Community School, a partnership between Children's Home Society of Florida, UCF, and Orange County Public Schools (UCF, 2012) 
CPS took time to conduct a truly engaged planning process, which involved not just listening or presenting information, but educating and using input to influence outcomes.
This is social capacity building at its best. By developing local networks of engaged people, infrastructure dollars are furthered by private partnerships and maintained to a higher quality as a sense of ownership is developed for the people living in the community.
The School Board and City Council agreed upon a set of goals and committed to a long-term funding plan to gain community trust.
To develop trust, whether with a parent or large financial backer, expectation for deliverables is paramount. Knowing that improvements will be delivered on schedule will allow for businesses to factor cost into longer-term partnerships, and parents to understand tough decisions about school consolidation and resource allocation.
Allowing a private entity to facilitate the planning process and establish partnerships for community schools shielded this process from becoming too political.
The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) was an original funding source for the engagement and initial planning of community schools. CDF’s role allowed school coordinators to be viewed as neutral players, thus removed from local politics. During the decade-long facilities implementation, Ms. Kamine was sub-contracted, thus never directly a CPS employee.
What needs to happen in Richmond now (and the next 14 months)!
1. The School Board and City Council adopt a comprehensive plan for facilities improvement that is vetted by the community.
An engaged community input process needs to begin so that the facilities task force report can be transparently discussed. Be on the lookout for upcoming dates, as school administration should begin meetings in the near future. [Update on proposed community meeting scheduled for September 28th meeting]
2. The School Board and City Council pass a resolution defining and supporting a commitment to community schools.
Look, here is a great example of a resolution passed by Cincinnati.
3. The Richmond community works to secure funding to implement the adopted facilities reform plan.
Do all of the following:
Contact our state legislators. Look to other states such as Minnesota, Florida, Ohio, or New York that established state grants to fund community schools or school infrastructure.
Aggressively pursue private investment in school partnerships. Use RPS historic resources to leverage private dollars for investment as detailed in Goldman, Kasper, and Rozell’s Style Weekly editorial. Contact our corporate, philanthropic, university, and healthcare partners to work out community school partnership agreements. Enter into efficiency service agreements to pay for new mechanical equipment that could leverage $4 private for every $1 public spent.
Pass a local bond referendum, allocate money in the budget and capital improvement plan, or pass a real estate tax that is directly tied to funding school infrastructure with a sunset clause. These are my favorites, but all options need to be on the table.
4. Gather partnerships and begin a system-wide community schools assessment.
Start by reading this comprehensive action guide for building community schools developed by NCCS.
Work through the RPS Office of Community-School Engagement to amass a list of partners. My initial assessment includes the following:
  • District-wide networks = Micah Initiative, Communities in Schools, Richmond Education Foundation, Boys and Girls Club, United Way, Altria, VCU, Sun Trust, Federal Reserve, YMCA, Virginia Lottery, Groundwork RVA, etc.
  • Neighborhood-based networks: CHAT, Peter Paul Development Center, Northside Outreach Center, YNPN, neighborhood or merchant associations, faith-based institutions, etc.
Use local planning resources (e.g. VCU’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, UR’s Bonner Center, or Storefront for Community Design) to help guide the community engagement process to conduct an inclusive system-wide assessment.
Storefront for Community Design, a gathering place for community engagement and planning (Self, 2013) 
But really, how can we fund this with Richmond’s vast needs?
When I started dating my wife, nothing would stop me from doing whatever I could to see her. Money, time, energy was not a question.
We need to apply this same ethic to our children’s safety and prosperity by examining where we FIRST spend our money (e.g. FY16 General Fund $700 million and CIP $200 million). Fix our schools, then work out the rest.
A community that stands idly by while children suffer, is not only complacent, but is a part of the problem. As MLK stated, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
If we claim to love Richmond’s children, then what is stopping us?

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