Richmond deserves more transparency and stronger leadership

When our leadership undermines the public trust, it’s students who suffer most

Over the past few months, Richmond Public Schools advocates have waded through a dense tangle of rumors and reportage, seeking concrete information about claims that former Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance had been brought on as a consultant at the cost of $12,500 a month.

Dallas Dance — Baltimore County Public Schools

Many of us were slow to believe that advisement on matters as critical as the strategic plan and academics would be made without informing the public and allowing debate. A FOIA request, however, confirmed that Dance was contracted by RPS for services through the end of this calendar year. According to interim RPS Superintendent Thomas Kranz, the school system and Dance have since mutually decided to part ways. This news comes on the heels of a report by the Baltimore Sun exposing a criminal investigation by the Maryland State Prosecutor’s Office on conflicts of interests related to Dance’s employment as superintendent in Baltimore County.

RPS advocates are angry. I am angry.

We have a right to our anger, but Dance’s guilt or innocence should not be our focus as it’s irrelevant to the broader violations of public interest and trust at stake in this hiring. The stakes here are clear: Richmonders deserve transparency in governance, and they deserve democratic control of the resources that are invested in our schools. School investment should be always be publicly governed and it should always put the needs of students first.

A lack of transparency has been a reoccurring theme in our city. As an advocate I have stood side-by-side with teachers, parents, and community members to demand more institutional transparency. We act because we recognize that sunlight and robust debate is what serves our schools best. Richmonders deserve to have faith in their government. Teachers, who do the daily work of educating our kids, deserve to know the educational leadership of the city is planning ahead and looking out for our best interests.

Simply put: if a consultant is brought on, especially at the cost of $12,500 per month, the School Board should know. There are policies in place that ensure this. State procurement laws require a bidding process. Furthermore, RPS policy requires that contracts over $25,000 are presented to the board shortly after they have been signed. That said, if School Board members discover this policy was not followed, it should have been addressed and made public immediately upon discovery. We, the parents, teachers, and students of RPS, are within our right to expect transparency and courage of conviction from our elected leadership. I hope to see decisive action from the school board in response to this hiring; without it the strength of this governing body is dramatically undermined.

We must do better. We are entrusted with the care and cultivation of 24,000 students across the city. The funds paid toward Dance’s contract could have offered those students books and supplies, they could have funded a part-time teacher or nurse for a school that currently goes without. More than anything, Richmond Public Schools need resources spent in support of our kids. When these resources were spent, we weren’t at the table. That’s what is so critical about transparency: it gives stakeholders a voice. Students, parents, teachers, and advocates know what our schools need. Only through democratic governance can we hear these voices and commit our elected leadership to a budget that prioritizes on-the-ground needs. This is how our schools will succeed.

Students deserve more. That has to start with us.