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Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

McDonnell steps up support for Richmond charter school

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

Governor Bob McDonnell is working overtime to get a fledgling Richmond charter school off the ground. City leaders and School Board members have been battling community members over the opening of Patrick Henry Charter School on Richmond’s Southside.

The school is set to open for classes in July, but is falling short in support from the school district, which has been lukewarm in some cases or  downright combative in others. Traditionally public school supporters have been resistant to the introduction of charter schools because they believe they bleed resources from other parts of the district that have desperate needs of their own.

Enter the state’s new Governor. Bob McDonnell has never shied away from his support for the development of charter schools and has found numerous opportunities to tout his support of President Barack Obama‘s “race to the top” program, which calls for the creation of a version of charter schools across the country. McDonnell is having a hard time pushing charter school funding through at the State Capitol, in part because his is being forced to subtract, not add to public school budgets.

However, one of the unique aspects of the charter school model is its aggressive approach to raising private donations to sustain its operation. Patrick Henry is no different. Supporters of the new school have solicited private donations to get the new operation off the ground and now McDonnell himself will become front and center in that effort.

As first reported by Chris Dovi and our friends at RVANews, McDonnell will headline a private, invite-only fundraiser in support of the Patrick Henry Charter School. NBC12 independently confirmed with the Governor’s office that McDonnell has agreed to take part.   The goal would be to help Patrick Henry raise the necessary funds to get the building open and secure a lease.

In addition to the very public support by the Governor, City Councilman Marty Jewell is working behind the scenes in an attempt to convince city school leaders that opening Patrick Henry is in everyone’s best interest. Jewell sent a letter to Kim Bridges, one of the school board members who has expressed concerns about the development of charter schools. In the letter Jewell pleads with Bridges “to urgently embrace fundamental change in educational delivery.” Jewell asks Bridges and the board to consider a financial committment to get Patrick Henry’s doors open.

A transcript of Jewell’s letter to Bridges can be found after the jump..


February 27, 2010

Kim Bridges
Richmond School Board

Dear Kim,
As time is of the essence, I have taken the liberty of sending this digital letter to you, along with copies to the Mayor, members of City Council, the School Board and the leaders of Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts.

It was good talking with you and Dawn earlier this week where I conveyed my deep concern that RPS needs to urgently embrace fundamental change in educational delivery and we discussed some examples. In that regard, this change could quicken by the advent of the PHSSA, located in my district. As you know, the previous School Board, in approving their charter, acknowledged that the Virginia School Charter law offered the opportunity to provide “choice” and “innovation” the students of Richmond needed now, stating further the PHSSA would provide such needed opportunities.

Yet I am not just writing in my legislative capacity, but on behalf of all Richmonders who believe in fair play – a level playing field. The Richmond School Board approved PHSSA’s Charter in 2008, after a lengthy process.  But here we are in 2010, and there remain, as you know, any number of even basic issues still outstanding with the date for the School’s official opening fast approaching. The citizens working hard to make PHSSA a reality for the children of Richmond have put in thousands and thousands of hours of volunteer work, for the purpose of offering these youngsters the very opportunities the School Board said is currently lacking.

I cast no blame here because I know the School Board, and you as the Chairwoman, have also spent a great deal of time on these issues.  Indeed, in a recent letter, you acknowledged that this long process, the first of its kind in Richmond, has proven to be more complicated than the Board had believed back in 2008.  I believe it is fair to say the PHSSA board has also had a learning experience.

But the bottom line for me has to be the children – over 90% of whom are African-American, – many from families with modest incomes, who need the very “choice” and “innovation” the School Board so wisely reasoned in 2008. As a Councilman, my job is to find ways to make what is needed happen. In my view, a member of the School Board has the same obligation in this circumstance: to find a way to make PHSSA happen for the over 250 children who have applied to attend, double the number expected. .

PHSSA is a public school. The state constitution and state law empowers school boards to assist public schools to be as successful as possible. My fear is that, at the current pace, PHSSA has been placed under an unfair burden in it’s efforts to meet their July 1 goals. There has been a new development: Paul Goldman has secured $100,000 in pledges from some very prominent members of the business community who want to help. But due to the current situation, he can’t nor could anyone else, answer for  them the most basic of questions that any person willing to write a $50,000 would, indeed, should, want answered.

PHSSA has authorized Paul, and he has asked me to request a meeting so that the two of us, along with legal representation, along with school board members and staff that you deem pertinent, can sit face-to-face in an effort to quickly resolve all outstanding issues.

Kim, I applaud the earnest work that you and so many others have done so far. The children are counting on us to make this a success story. I will make myself  available at any time at your convenience. Please contact me by telephone at 804-332-3654 day or night.

Looking forward to hearing from you, I am




Written by Ryan Nobles

March 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Our reporter, Evrod Cassimy was at tonight’s meeting to talk to Green about the progress of Patrick Henry opening, when apparently Crusade members went on the attack, accusing Green of  conflict of interest in his role with the political group and the charter school.  Patrick Henry has been a divisive issue in the City of Richmond. While some families are excited about the potential the school may provide to underprivileged youth, many others are concerned that it will drain already depleted resources from the overall district budget. The Patrick Henry effort has received the support at many high levels of Virginia Government, including Governor Bob McDonnell himself. […]

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