Supporters of Redfield school consider options

REDFIELD – Keep Redfield Middle School has not given up on maintaining a middle school in this Jefferson County municipality, Todd Dobbins, who has headed the Redfield task force opposed to the closure of the school, said Wednesday.

The White Hall School Board voted 4-2 Tuesday to close Redfield Middle School at the end of the 2012-13 school year and transfer the school’s students to White Hall Middle School.

The board rejected a request from the task force and Dobbins to keep the school open for another year.

“They (the district directors) are doing what they think is best for the district,” Redfield Mayor Tony Lawhon said Wednesday. “We won’t stop Redfield from growing.”

Dobbins said the task force is still intent at looking at all the options available, including the operation of a charter school. Representatives of the ad hoc task force asked the school board last Thursday for another year to demonstrate that Redfield’s growth warranted keeping the school open.

Both Lawhon and Dobbins said they do not know what plans, if any, the district has for the school building, constructed in the 1930s as a high school, once it is closed.

“I don’t have a clue what they plan to do with the building,” Lawhon said. “If they offer it to the city, it would be up to the Redfield City Council to accept it or reject it, based on maintenance costs and other factors.”

The former Redfield district was dissolved in 1949 by the state and merged with the White Hall district the following year. The White Hall district operates the middle school and Hardin Elementary School on separate campuses at Redfield.

Superintendent Larry Smith raised the issue of closing the Redfield school during a September planning session with the school board.

Smith said a state facilities survey suggested it would cost the district $4.5 to $6 million to renovate the existing Redfield school or $3.5 million to build a new middle school on the district-owned tract occupied by Hardin Elementary.

Redfield’s middle school students could be bused to White Hall Middle School, Smith said, where adequate space is available.

Smith estimated the proposed annual savings on personnel and operating costs by closing Redfield Middle School ranged from $382,000 to $412,000.

The district’s administrators are faced with increased retirement contributions, health insurance costs and questions involving state and federal funding for education, in addition to school choice options, Smith told the board.

Smith said Wednesday that school districts often offer closed school buildings for use as a community center with a long-term lease and the municipality assuming maintenance costs.

“You guys are making a severe mistake,” Dobbins told the district directors as he left the board room after Tuesday’s vote.

Minutes later, Dobbins said the board wanted White Hall Middle School at capacity should the Arkansas Department of Education order the Dollarway School District merged with the White Hall district.

Smith encouraged the board at the September planning meeting to make a decision on the closure proposal early in the calendar year, noting that teacher contracts for the 2013-14 school year go out in February.