Editor’s note: please realize that we’re doing profiles on ALL of the candidates before the election! This is not an endorsement. CHPN does not do political endorsements. (thanks CkW!)
Gary Broderick has been meeting a lot of people in the neighborhood. He calls knocking on doors almost ‘saintly’ because while he enjoys speaking to those who are active and informed, he also gets to talk to people who, for whatever reason, are not active in the current political climate and also believe there’s nothing they can do. The conversations he has with these folks are sacred and there’s a sense of immediacy as he promotes change and participation. His message of civic involvement and personal dignity has already inspired future young leaders like Aaron Tabb.
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"I support Gary Broderick to be on the School Board because I have worked with students in Richmond Public Schools and their schools have failed them in a variety of ways. The buildings are outdated and present health hazards, the teachers are scarce and under-compensated, not every school has a nurse, and over a dozen of the schools fail to meet accreditation standards. Systematic neglect of students, families, and faculty needs have become a worrisome norm within Richmond Public Schools and the school board is partly to blame for its history of complacency by accepting insufficient budget proposals from the City Council. Gary is a fundamentally different candidate because he is willing to run a campaign to confront the powerful interests that dominate the city’s budget priorities. In order to do this we will need more than one candidate. We need a movement of civic involvement willing to demand a needs based budget and Gary Broderick is the only candidate running for the 7th district that is willing to commit to being an authentic participant of this movement." – Aaron Tabb #InThisTogether #RedForEd #Red4Ed #RPS #WeAreRPS #MidtermsMatter #RVA #Montrose #ChurchHill #FultonHill #ShockoeBottom
There’s also something cool about Gary. Perhaps it’s the fact he’s young, approachable and charming. His social media presents a brand, bright blue and red colors with modern backdrops, that pays careful attention to visuals. Who is this man challenging the status quo?
Gary is a public education advocate running for the upcoming School Board election in Richmond this November. Endorsed by the Richmond Teachers for Social Justice and Our Revolution RVA, Gary has professionally worked as a community organizer with New Virginia Majority, MoveOn and Unite Here. Currently working at UPS affords him the independence of making a living separate from his political work. During his time as a parent organizer with New Virginia Majority, he was part of key victories: successfully pressuring the School Board to put forward a needs-based budget and winning democratic reforms to the Mayor’s Education Compact. He’s fired up and ready to go and discuss the importance in the democratic process to any who will listen.
Gary wasn’t always this way, “I had my formative experience going from a person who didn’t know that you could make changes to becoming the person who really saw that if you get together with the people around you, you can do really big things.” His love of education started with a show of civil disobedience to prevent a state-appointed school reform commission from taking a vote to close 37 schools in the City of Philadelphia.
Walter Smith Elementary was a neighborhood institution where when you sent your kid there, you knew that the crossing guard knew the kid and knew the family. You knew that the person serving food in the cafeteria knew the kid and they knew the family. And you could feel good about sending your kid to this neighborhood institution. And when they closed it, instead, young kids were walking across huge streets, and parents were losing their mind with stress about whether their kid was going to get safely to school. But they had to get to work on time, and it was just a horrible situation.
It was just clear that no one thought this was actually better for students, there was pressure to save money by being able to lay off teachers and stick kids like sardines into a smaller amount of schools. I was involved in this conversation with the neighborhood and in the activist community about what school closings meant. And even people like myself who weren’t involved in public education started to really feel like if we let the city of Philadelphia so fundamentally antidemocratic, that so clearly goes against the will and the interests of the majority of people … If we let them get away with this, they’re going to feel like they can get away with anything.
It is potentially a loaded question to ask a candidate to differentiate himself from an established figure like current interim school board representative Cheryl Burke. Ms. Burke, who was also principal of Chimborazo Elementary for over 15 years, was appointed by the Richmond School Board last year and now must run in a special election against Gary and Bryce Robertson.
Gary has been making the rounds doing podcasts, radio shows and meeting folks in different civic associations discussing one of his favorite topics: public education is a pillar of democracy and should be well-funded.
If we actually believe in democracy, we need to have institutions that are democratically governed, and democratic governance is only substantive if those institutions are well-funded enough to then carry out the will of the people, right?
Years of racist arguments, Gary argues, particularly at the level of the state have justified the defunding of our public schools. “When people make these comparisons (highest meal tax rates) about how much we spend per student, then you remove the historical context, the level or poverty and historic divestment that different respective schools are trying to intervene in”. It’s a reality that those arguments, especially in the current political climate (however misinformed) are still out there:
I think if you’re a CEO of a corporation and you don’t want your taxes to be raised, you know what you would prefer than the public thinking we need more funding. You would prefer the public to think it is just incompetence, and if we just got rid of these teachers and these principals, if these parents would just do their job, then our schools would be okay. No, the reality is our schools are starved, and so, that’s a moral crisis. When we talk about less than 50 percent of young people in East End schools can read at grade-level, we are leaving tons of young people behind. We are setting them up either to be in jail or at some low-wage job, and what our campaign is saying, “No, we can develop young people to be architects of their own future and our collective future, but it does require investment. Fundamentally, we need political leadership that’s willing to take on powerful corporations and demand they pay their fair share of taxes.”
Let’s take a moment now and do some quick hits on:
Ms. Burke’s voting record:
My concern with [Mrs. Burke] has been some of the votes that she’s taken. [For example] Richmond teachers are paid about $15,000 a year less than the national average. Our learning assistants are close to a poverty-level wage. Our custodians are subcontracted and getting 29 hours, so they don’t get benefits. In that context, I think it’s the wrong call to allow a new superintendent to come in while demanding to be the highest paid superintendent in Richmond history, whose contract states that after a year he can do consulting for more money.
Students starting 10 minutes early and democratic dialogue
Increasing research that shows high schoolers do better, just in terms of that stage of human development, do better with classes starting later. Both of these shifts actually require school board approval, and both of them the superintendent attempted to do unilaterally.
What actually we should have had was leadership that said, “We’re going to structure democratic dialogue over the course of the next three or four months, and we’re gonna get input from parents and teachers how to deal with this problem.” You can apply for a waiver. You can see if you can push back the school day, and it has to be dealt with comprehensively. You have to think about it in terms of the school transportation.
Corporate Taxes and the Middle Class
I think that we act as if no “New taxes,” which is code for “No new taxes on the wealthy,” is this valuable objective, and what it actually does is create a context where the middle-class and more like working-class people are kind of competing against each other. I’m knocking on doors in different parts of the neighborhood, and I think if one of the ways I’ll evaluate my political leadership is successful is if I can put forward a vision or be part of putting forward a vision that brings different groups of people together and on the same page and kind of believing everything that we need from policy that doesn’t allow longer-term residents to get displaced out of the East End and public schools that we can all feel really proud to send kids to.
Stay tuned for profiles on Cheryl Burke and Bryce Robertson in the coming weeks!