School board members at odds over vote against rezoning overcrowded middle school

According to RPS administration, the River City Middle School will open next fall over capacity...
According to RPS administration, the River City Middle School will open next fall over capacity with more than 1600 students, something the superintendent says will now be impossible to fix, but some board members believe there is still time to find a solution to alleviate the overcrowding.(NBC12)
Published: Apr. 26, 2022 at 11:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Regardless of the rain or sunshine, virtually every afternoon at River City Middle School, around 4 p.m. when students let out is met with gridlocked vehicles wrapped around the school’s perimeter as parents and bus drivers attempt to pick up the more than 1,500 students who attend the middle school.

The panic at the pickup line is just one example of how overcrowded River City Middle School is. According to Richmond Public School Administration, these issues will only get worse because, by next fall, the brand new middle school is expected to enroll more than 1,600 students, well above its functional capacity.

But despite the efforts of a rezoning committee established by the district, after five months of planning and community engagement, which recommended rezoning 400 River City students to Boushall, Lucile Brown, and Binford Middle Schools, the board voted 5-4 against the rezoning proposal. Among the criticism of the proposal, many board members brought up concerns regarding the 40 open-enrollment seats Binford Middle School would lose if the rezoning passed.

“This false choice relative to pitting open enrollment families against the very legitimate need to rezone River City Middle School is most unfortunate,” 4th district board member Jonathan Young said.

But parents like Lauren Methena, who will have two children attending Binford next fall, feel they aren’t being listened to. She says she wants to see all schools flourish and believes the decision not to rezone River City will only hurt the district.

“A lot of us feel like the school board has turned their backs on a lot of the kids,” Methena said.

Young says he stands by the decision, citing parental choice, capacity use, and transportation concerns.

“What was presented yesterday evening made zero sense, and anyone who looked at the numbers could see that,” Young said.

But 1st district board member Liz Doerr says those concerns don’t add up and believes the board has made a critical mistake.

“I find it curious that Binford, one of the most well-resourced schools in the city, was the only middle school that was brought up in the conversation,” Doerr said. “The school board prioritized school choice for affluent families over the safety and security of Black and Brown families on the south side - it’s just a matter of fact.”

Superintendent Jason Kamras says the board lost its opportunity to fix the overcrowding at River City because of the looming open enrollment deadline.

“We have to live with the very bad decision we just made,” Kamras said.

But Young believes there’s still time to find another solution before the district’s open enrollment deadline in early May. He says an emergency vote could still be held at the next school board meeting to find a place for hundreds of River City students to attend to address the overcrowding.

“I fully anticipate that we will address our one outlier school among other middle schools, i.e., River City, provide them readdress relative to capacity, and concurrently provide more opportunity for students to attend these other under-enrolled middle schools,” Young said.

But members like Doer aren’t as optimistic that anything can be done to change the fate of River City next fall.

“I think it’s a shame to rush a decision at the whim of a couple of school board members when the community and the committee have done great work in proposing this plan,” Doer said.

The board is scheduled to meet this coming Monday. There is no definite word on whether they’ll make another vote regarding rezoning.

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