Redfield patrons form task force, may consider lawsuit to keep school open

REDFIELD – More than 100 Redfield residents turned out Tuesday evening at the American Legion Post to discuss short-term and long-term plans, including legal action, should the White Hall School District move to close Redfield Middle School.

Mayor Tony Lawhon, who chaired the meeting that drew a standing-room-only crowd, said a task force has been organized to convince the school board that it is not in the best interests of Redfield students and the community to shutter the middle school.

He said he met several months ago with Superintendent Larry Smith after hearing rumors that steps might be taken to close the middle school, adding he was told the facility might be considered for closure in 2014.

“I was shocked to hear” the decision could come in early 2013, Lawhon said.

Residents who organized the task force acknowledged they “may lose a small battle, but we are not going to back off,” the mayor told the crowd. He encouraged residents to attend every school board meeting and “become a thorn in their flesh until they hear our story.”

Redfield has potential for growth after receiving authority to extend water and sewer lines under Interstate 530, opening up thousands of acres for development, Lawhon said, and that growth would stall if the school is closed.

He said the task force has started collecting monies for a legal defense fund if an effort is made by the board to close the school and the decision is appealed to the Arkansas Board of Education.

Members of the local group have established a Facebook page to keep communications lines open, Lawhon said. Information has been obtained under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act on district expenditures and the task force is compiling records to buttress their arguments.

Financial options and issues, including closure of the Redfield school, were discussed by the White Hall board Sept. 25 during a three-hour planning session. No votes were taken on any issues during the meeting.

A large delegation from Redfield appeared at this month’s board meeting and residents were encouraged Tuesday to turnout in large numbers at future board meetings to make their voices heard.

Students at the Redfield school score higher academically than their White Hall counterparts, they told the school board. The White Hall district operates the middle school and Hardin Elementary School on separate campuses at Redfield.

The former Redfield School District was merged with the White Hall district in the late 1940s.

Smith said the board is required to review the district’s master facilities plan annually, noting the potential savings on closing the Redfield school and busing its students to White Hall Middle School.

Middle school enrollment is up 10 percent this school year, Amanda Kight, daughter of Redfield Middle School principal James Kight told district directors and reminded patrons again Tuesday of the gains.