Redfield residents urge board to keep school open

WHITE HALL — A standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 members of the Redfield community made impassioned pleas to the White Hall School Board on Tuesday evening not to close Redfield Middle School.

The potential closure of the school, along with a number of financial issues, was discussed by the board Sept. 25 during a three-hour planning session. No votes were taken last week or Tuesday on the school.

The former Redfield School District was dissolved in 1949 under the Arkansas School District Reorganization Act when the district’s enrollment fell below 350 students. The Redfield district was merged with the White Hall district the following year, according to minutes of the old Jefferson County Board of Education.

The White Hall district operates the middle school and Hardin Elementary School on two campuses at Redfield. Enrollment at the Redfield Middle School, housed in a WPA-constructed building, has fallen, and the board may be asked to consider merging its classes into White Hall Middle School, Superintendent Dr. Larry Smith said last week.

Smith said the board is required to review the district’s master facilities plan, noting the potential savings on closing the Redfield Middle School campus are about $350,000 annually.

Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting also ran three hours as one person after other contended students at the Redfield school score higher academically than their White Hall counterparts and the school is a major part of a growing community.

Amanda Kight, daughter of middle school principal James Kight, and Lisa Bartlett both noted that the White Hall board agreed to operate a junior high and elementary schools when the merger occurred.

Middle school enrollment is up 10 percent this school year, Kight added, recommending that directors “look at the opportunities, not costs.

Another woman said she and her husband moved to Redfield five years ago because of the community’s schools.

Justice of the Peace Conley Byrd, a Redfield veterinarian, said closing the school would be “short-sighted … Look at the long term.”

One woman said her son has thrived since he has been a student at the Redfield school.

“You can’t put a price tag on our children,” she said.

Helen Mosley, a veteran White Hall elementary teacher now teaching at the middle school, said she has been “blessed to be at Redfield Middle School … Arkansas’ best kept secret.”

Board President Scott Pittillo said directors are looking at a number of economic issues, including aid the state will make available for physical plant improvements and programs, the rising cost of health insurance premiums for the district’s employees, increases in the district’s contributions to the state teacher retirement system and reduced state foundation money because the district’s enrollment has fallen.

Smith earlier summed up the economic issues for the crowd, including sequestration of federal education dollars because Congress has yet to reach an agreement to reduce the budget deficit.

A number of decisions, including the Redfield school, must be made early next year, Smith said, noting that teacher contracts go out in February.

Board officers for the year were elected Tuesday.

Pittillo was re-elected president, while Scott Ray was re-elected vice president and Roy Agee was re-elected secretary.

Board members drew for terms, with Connie Medsker drawing a one-year term; Pittillo, two years; Agee, three years; Dean Dancer and J.D. Stacey, four years; and Ray and Dr. Raymond Jones, five years.