Candidates for School Board’s 3rd district seat sharply disagree on Dana Bedden

Published: October 21

Three candidates are running for the District 3 seat currently held by Jeff M. Bourne on the city’s School Board: Bourne, 40, the incumbent and an attorney with the Office of the Attorney General; Jessee Perry, 27, areas sales manager for Farmers Insurance; and Kevin Starlings, 30, who’s in executive management with The J2 Service Corp.


Here’s where they stand on issues facing the city’s school district.


What is your opinion of Superintendent Dana Bedden’s tenure and do you intend to support him if elected?


Perry: The school board needs to let Dr. Bedden do his job and hold him accountable to goals. I do not support him the way things are today; however, I support giving him an opportunity combined with management and accountability.


Bourne: The last two and half years have been one of transition. RPS has begun addressing some of the long overdue systemic issues. We are rebuilding a school system the right way–with increased accountability, more transparency, and greater community engagement. Yes he will continue to have my support.


Starlings: Dr. Bedden and his ability to move this district towards an all-inclusive and equitable system hasn’t been proven. Our academic standings have regressed, morale is low, teachers are leaving the district and more unqualified administrators are being placed in our schools. I can’t support that.



What is a School Board member’s role in the day-to-day administration of RPS?


Perry: School Board members are responsible for establishing a vision, creating policies to accomplish the vision, and holding Dr. Bedden accountable for implementation. The day-to-day operations role is to create conditions that foster change and hold the Superintendent accountable for implementation.


Bourne: Our role in the day to day administration of RPS is one of accountability and oversight. We partner with the Superintendent to ensure that when challenges arise they are addressed and corrected. We work with the community/parents to build a school system students deserve and parents expect.


Starlings: Being accessible, responsive and visible. To maintain a basic organizational structure, develop curriculum, meet federal and state mandates, provide oversight, adopt an annual budget, and create a climate that promotes inclusion, equity and educational excellence.



School administrators have said that a possible solution to dealing with some fiscal issues facing RPS and to create a more efficient district, is to close some schools. Will you support closing schools if the administration recommends that it will be best in the long term? Why or why not?


Perry: I support creating a long term plan based on population growth projections that includes strategic redistricting. This may include closing schools but it needs to be part of a bigger, long term vision that ensures equal opportunities for all students.


Bourne: I support a plan that comprehensively addresses our infrastructure challenges. Our system was built at a time when RPS had over 50,000 students. We now have approximately ½ that number. We need to rezone, renovate, build new and close some of buildings. These pieces work together not separately


Starlings: Yes, I will support closing schools but not without a plan in place for new construction and proper rezoning. When looking at school closing/consolidation we have to take into consideration the financial savings, community input, low enrollment, safety, teaching conditions, and academic performance.



One issue you may face early on is redistricting. When it comes to moving school lines, what should the priorities be?


Perry: We need to focus on equal opportunity for all students, diversity, future plans for buildings, and working with other government bodies to ensure we have infrastructure (e.g. Public Transportation) to support the new district lines.


Bourne: Students first and foremost. Redistricting must be completed with students/families in mind first. Additionally, the decisions must be based on sound data and generating the most efficiency from an operational perspective so that savings can be directed back into classroom.


Starlings: We must first be able to offer an equitable experience. The priority is diversification and integration within our schools. Successfully addressing student diversity is no more about numbers for numbers’ sake than it is about diversity for diversity’s sake. We have to get all stakeholders involved.



Given the budget realities facing RPS, where can the district make cuts that save money without affecting academics?


Perry: We need to evaluate the studies we perform and whether data exists with the answers being sought. Another big cut we can make is if City Council adopts a plan like the Roanoke 40 so resources can be spent finding state/federal funding instead of fighting with each other.


Bourne: We need to look at every facet of RPS to continue generating maximum efficiency in our operations. One place to look is in our contracted services. We may be able to save some money by bringing some of those items in house — so long as we do not lose quality.


Starlings: We can make cuts by reducing consulting services, revisit the agreements with contractors. We can be more proactive than reactive to facility issues. There is a lot of wasteful spending due to correcting issues caused by employee incompetence. We can also save by bringing some things back in house.

City Council Meeting Turns into Dramatic Mess


Drama erupted at Richmond City Council Monday evening. One person was even hauled out and put in handcuffs.

Richmond City Council was supposed to vote on the future of Monroe Park, but people continued disrupting because they didn’t like the plan. Things got so out of order that at one point, council members got up and walked out.

After numerous outbursts at City Council, Chris Dorsey was recording when police asked him to leave for being disruptive. When he resisted, three officers picked him up and carried him out.

Once outside, they put him in cuffs and he told us he was banned from going back inside.

All the commotion stemmed from disagreement over a plan to allow a non-profit to manage Monroe Park. People against the ordinance are worried about what will happen to the homeless people who live in the park.

“Right now they find that as their home,” says Kevin Starlings of the Jeremiah Memorial Foundation. “They don’t have anywhere else to go and speaking to a lot of individuals that we interact with, the thing is if they do this renovation, where do we go? This is the only place we know, you guys are trying to push us out.”

At one point, City Council had to leave the chambers. Once they came back in, Councilwoman Michelle Mosby had had enough.

“Before you interrupt me again – because I didn’t interrupt you – we had some children here at the last meeting, and I would have hated for them to be here to see the disrespect that comes from the public here,” she said.

“Folks listen here. Next comment out of either of you, I will expel you too,” said Councilman Charles Samuels. “Disrupting the meeting does not resolve an issue.”

After all that commotion, City Council finally went on to approve the plan.

The non-profit Monroe Park Conservancy can now lease, manage and maintain the park for the next 30 years. The group will have to pay one dollar a year to lease the park. They’ll also have to raise $3 million.

“It will remain a public park,” Samuels says. “It will remain open to everyone and it will be wonderfully restored.”

Now that the ordinance has been approved, the non-profit will start raising $3 million. Another $3 million will come from taxpayers.