Redfield panel circulates petitions for charter school

REDFIELD – Petitions for an open enrollment charter school were circulated here Thursday by the Keep Redfield Middle School Task Force during a public meeting at the American Legion Post 343.

The White Hall School Board’s 4-2 vote Jan. 8 to close the school at the end of the current school year and transfer the students to White Hall Middle School was part of an orchestrated campaign by the board and district administration, Todd Dobbins, task force chairman, told the told the standing-room-only crowd.

After the closure issue was raised in September, “We decided to find out why,” Dobbins said.

White Hall district patrons were told that state education officials mandated the conversion from the junior high to middle school format, which required a 17-classroom addition to White Hall High School, Dobbins said.

He circulated a copy of an email he received Thursday from the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation stating the division “does not require or mandate school districts to perform grade reconfigurations within the school district,” according to Charles C. Stein, division director.

Moving the sixth grade from local elementary schools to the middle schools and ninth graders from the middle schools to WHHS was made to leave the appearance of a declining enrollment, Dobbins said.

“We don’t have a declining enrollment at Redfield,” he told the crowd. “We have a ninth grade that was moved out of the community.

“None of what we were told was true,” Dobbins said, adding task force members have encountered obstacles in their search for records. No record exists of the state ordering the removal of portable buildings on White Hall district campuses.

He said the audit of the district’s financial records requires a code book to understand the audit done by a private firm, while the state Legislative Joint Auditing would perform an audit for free.

Challenging the district in court over the closure would be costly and time consuming, the crowd was told. Task force members asked for direction from Redfield residents on what is the best approach to keep middle and elementary schools in their community.

Another option mentioned would involve the former Redfield School District withdrawing from the White Hall district, a process that could also prove expensive and time consuming since the latter district would be expected to oppose the measure.

Many of the questions raised involved an open enrollment charter school. The charter school petitions were circulated and additional public meetings were discussed, with Redfield residents encouraged to attend White Hall district board meetings.

Ronald Meredith, task force vice chairman, said he received no encouragement after addressing the state Board of Education meeting Monday in Little Rock.