The school has occupied the building since the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, but the Richmond School Board has resisted turning ownership of the building to the charter school, citing a list of concerns that have included fears that the building might be lost to creditors should the charter school fail.
"Thing at Patrick Henry, they can fund the rest of the renovations if they can get [ownership of] the building, and until the building is surplused, they can't do that," said 9th District Councilman Doug Conner before the meeting. Conner, along with 5th District Councilman Marty Jewell and 3rd District Councilman Chris Hilbert, voted to send the letter to Mayor Jones asking him to support surplusing the building. The letter is signed by Hilbert, who is chairman of the committee.
The School Board still controls the property, and the first step to the building being given or sold to the Patrick Henry would be a move by that board to surplus the building. The school district's resistance to handing over the building has stymied the charter school board's fundraising efforts with private donors as well as in securing construction grants and loans, says a charter school board member.
The mayor has little or no direct control over the building, noted Jones' Chief Administrative Officer Byron Marshall.
"If [the school board] was to surplus it to us, the council would have to decide if they want to surplus it," Marshall said, citing the mayor's lack of authority to act on the Patrick Henry building.
School Board Chairwoman Dawn Page, who is running for the 8th District city council seat, declined comment on the letter or on the request to see the building given to the charter school. "I haven't seen the letter," said Page, who was at the committee meeting Wednesday night but who did not speak on any issue. She left before the letter was discussed by the committee.
Jewell was adamant that the school board's delay equates to stalling on an issue that negatively impacts quality of education for Richmond children.
"We want it surplused. What the hell are they holding onto it for?" Jewell asked. "Why would they not surplus the building when Patrick Henry, which is a part of RPS, could benefit from a $1 million grant?"
Patrick Henry's new co-chairwoman, Deborah Corliss, told the committee that RPS’s delay in surplusing the building — the charter’s board first officially asked the school district to do so in April of last year and again in December — had prevented them from receiving a $1 million construction loan from a charter school nonprofit funding organization based in Washington, D.C.
Marshall had not yet seen the letter either and said he was unsure how or whether Jones would respond the the committee's request.
"I have no idea what he would say," Marshall said, though "he's supportive of charter schools, we know that much."
In voting to send the letter, the three councilmen also briefly discussed the possibility of having other council committees send similar letters to the mayor. They also talked about other vacant and deteriorating RPS properties that could be surplused potentially to the financial gain of the district. Conner suggested the possibility of a study to review the district’s inventory of unused buildings.
Hilbert noted two in his own district that “are magnets for negative activities.”