The last time I wrote to you all I detailed some of the nuances involved with the teaching specialist positions that were being lost this year in Norfolk public schools due to our small budget.
Because of the school board’s decision, there are a lot of angry parents in West Ghent due to their children’s schools now having to share specialists. But what if I told you that your anger is a bit misplaced?
We’re yelling and writing to our school board for having to make difficult decisions with a budget that our city council gave them. Now are you paying attention?
This week our city council hastily voted on a new ordinance meant to crack down on tax breaks for developers who buy up old buildings, flip them, and receive a 14-year tax abatement for “restoring” a historic building. The problem with the old law was that a developer could keep one brick — that’s it — of the old building and still claim the abatement for restoring a historic building. The new ordinance requires that 51 percent of the building needs to preserved by the property owner and be at least 40 years old in order to receive a tax break. The previous law required the building to be at least 50.
Developer Buddy Gadams is one such developer that is benefiting from this abatement program on his building at 450 Boush St., despite only preserving one wall of the property, which you can see below.
Do you want to hear something funny? Gadams just happens to be closing on some financing this Friday, and wouldn’t you know it? He could now be benefiting from the new ordinance’s 40-year threshold, opposed to the old 50-year minimum. How about that? What timing.
This new ordinance was pushed by City Attorney Bernard Pishko, who knew about Gadams financing closing on Friday, and Mayor Kenneth Alexander. Should I add the Pishko is the one who pushed for the new 40-year clause? What a coincidence. Alexander denies knowing about the benefits that Gadams would receive, but Angelia Graves, Tommy Smiegel, Maimie Johnson and Paul Riddick also knew before the vote. How could the mayor have not? At any rate, whether the new ordinance is good or not, whether they would have voted for it on September 13, the date that many council members would have rather had in order to read and vet the new ordinance, is irrelevant. This ordinance was pushed in order to give yet another tax break to a big developer who is already slated to make multi-millions on this new property and not pay his fair share in property taxes.
And this brings us to our public schools: to your kids’ schools where they are bleeding teachers, losing specialists, and could use the tax revenue from Gadams’ new developments.
The answer to our public school’s budget problem isn’t to sell the schooner, as Kerry Dougherty has suggested in the Pilot. The answer is to hold our council responsible for requiring big developers to pay their fair share in taxes. That’s where the big revenue comes in to pay the salaries for one the most important institutions in our city: our schools.
Do you know how difficult it is for our schools to pay to fix crumbling cornice work on the outside of their buildings? Do you know how difficult it is for them to pay for toilette paper? To fix broken smart boards? To keep reading and math specialists? And yet Buddy Gadams can get a rushed vote in city council for an ordinance that will keep bushels and bushels of money in his pocket that could, and should, be going to our schools.
That should make us angry. Angry enough to write downtown to our city council and demand that they begin to favor our schools instead of big developers. We need to demand that our city leaders take time reviewing new ordinances before they vote on them, despite the push from developers and City Attorney Pishko, who may not be corrupt, but you could have fooled me.
We should demand that Pishko take a look at our schools and find ways to advocate for them instead of Gadams. This is simply unacceptable.
And so, parents of West Norfolk, I urge you to use your muscle and power for good. Direct your anger to where it counts. Write to our mayor, our city council, and demand that they do better for our schools. Because we’re watching and we’re not letting this good ol’ boy council continue to be pushed around by developers. They’re going to be pushed around by us.