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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske October 31, 2016

Levar Stoney weakly claims that Jack Berry voted to cut $23.8 million from Richmond schools

There’s a photo of a sad-looking girl sitting at a school desk on a new flier being circulated by Richmond mayoral candidate Levar Stoney.

"Jack Berry voted for a plan to cut $23.8 million from our public schools," the handbill states in capital letters.

Berry also is among the seven candidates in the mayor’s race. He’s held a number of key administrative posts in the Richmond region but never has held elective office. So we wondered if he had, indeed, voted to cut millions from city schools, as Stoney said.

Footnotes on Stoney’s flier base the claim on an April 17, 2012, article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch that updated a funding feud between Mayor Dwight C. Jones and the city’s School Board.

The controversy began in February 2012, when the board passed a school budget with $263.7 million in projected expenses but only $239.9 million in projected revenues.

Rather than cut expenses, the board opted to approve its underfunded budget and ask Jones and the Richmond City Council to make up the difference.

Jones responded in March by appointing a task force of 11 public and private executives to look for savings in the School Board’s budget that wouldn’t hurt classroom instruction. Berry, a former Richmond budget director, was one of the appointees.

The panel hired two outside consultants, including former Richmond City Manager Robert C. Bobb, to find possible short- and long-term cuts. The consultants’ $35,000 fee was paid by the Greater Richmond Chamber Foundation.  

On April 16, 2012, the panel voted 10-1 to recommend $23.8 million in cuts to the School Board’s proposed budget. Berry voted with the majority.

An article in the next day’s Times-Dispatch - footnoted in Stoney’s flier - said the task force "leaned heavily" on the consultant’s recommendations in finalizing its list of proposed cuts. The list included:

•cutting 20 teacher positions;

•cutting 25 teacher aides;

•cutting 50 non-teacher positions;

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•imposing three furlough days;

•changing various health care benefits;

•changing the structure of plant service and security; and

•eliminating the employee bonus pool.

Stoney’s flier calls the package of cuts "Berry’s plan," but there’s nothing in The Times-Dispatch’s coverage that suggests he was the mastermind. To the contrary, the article cited by Stoney says the task force "heavily leaned" on the recommendations of its consultants in finalizing its list of proposed cuts. It also should be noted that Berry was not one of the two people Jones appointed as co-chairmen of the panel.

A week later, Jones asked City Council to contribute an additional $5.1 million for education - far below the extra $23.8 million the School Board sought. The mayor rejected the task force’s recommendations for furlough days and eliminating health benefits for the school system’s pre-Medicare retirees. The council increased that amount to $5.6 million.

In the end, Richmond schools were left with a $250 million budget for the 2012-13 school year, anchored by a $129.4 million appropriation from the City Council and with the rest coming from state and federal sources. That was slightly higher than the $249.1 million for the 2011-12 school year, which included $123.8 million in city funds.

Our ruling

Stoney’s flier says, "Jack Berry voted for a plan to cut $23.8 million from our schools."

The Richmond School Board passed a budget in 2012 that exceeded its revenues by $23.8 million and asked the city to make up the difference.

Mayor Jones refused and appointed an 11-member advisory committee, which included Berry, to find savings. The panel voted 10-1, with Berry’s support, to recommend a plan that itemized $23.8 million in cuts to the board’s proposed budget. The City Council largely adopted that plan.

Stoney’s statement suggests that Berry had an official role in the budget deliberations. He didn’t. Berry served as an adviser to the mayor with instructions to find efficiencies. He didn’t have a say in the actual appropriation of city funds for education; that remained in the hands of the City Council.

It’s also misleading to say, as Stoney does, that the plan "cut" $23.8 million from schools. Most of that sum was hoped-for new money from the City Council that the School Board never received.  

So Stoney’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores important facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Levar Stoney, campaign flier, Oct. 24, 2016.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "School board has put a $147.5 million budget request before Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Feb. 17, 2012.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Task force OKs school budget plan," April 17, 2016.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "Jones finds $5.1 million for schools," April 24, 2012.

Richmond Times-Dispatch, "City Council OKs $129.4M for schools," May 15, 2016.

Email from Matt Corridoni, spokesman for Levar Stoney’s campaign, Sept. 26, 2016.

Interview with Matt Rigby, spokesman for Jack Berry’s campaign, Sept. 26, 2016.

Email from T. David Myers, chief financial officers for Richmond City Public Schools, Sept. 27, 2016.

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Levar Stoney weakly claims that Jack Berry voted to cut $23.8 million from Richmond schools

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