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Closing Redfield MS on table

Members of the White Hall School Board were given more than 100 pages of homework Sept. 25 during a three-hour work session, but don’t face a test when they meet Tuesday evening. Instead, they will be asked to do more research.

No votes were taken during last week’s session, with board members asked to begin thinking about some difficult decisions down the road. Many of those decisions can’t be reached until after the General Assembly meets in early 2013, Superintendent Dr. Larry Smith noted.
The potential closure of Redfield Middle School was one item on last week’s agenda. The former Redfield School District was dissolved in 1949 under the state School District Reorganization Act when the district’s enrollment fell below 350 students and 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 separate campuses at Redfield. Enrollment at the Redfield Middle School, housed in a WPA era building, continues to drop, and the board may be asked to consider merging its classes into White Hall Middle School.
Smith said the potential savings on closing the Redfield Middle School campus are about $350,000 annually.
“Until you tell us what you want, I am just laying it out,” he said.
However, since teacher contracts are normally issued in May the board may be asked to reach a decision during the spring of 2013.
Consolidation of the two middle schools would raise the projected enrollment here to 733 students, with some staffing adjustments required
Economic issues include reduced state aid money because the district’s enrollment has fallen, funds the state will make available for physical plant improvements and programs, the increasing cost of health insurance premiums for the district’s employees and the potential for increases in the district’s contributions to the state teacher retirement system.
The economic issues include:
— The Arkansas Teacher Retirement System has sustained losses on a number of investments during the recession and is not meeting statutory requirements, requiring the local district to increase annual contributions by more than $140,000.
— Changes in the state’s health insurance program could cost the district more than $230,000 annually for 137 employees who do not participate in the state insurance plan for one reason or another.
— The drop in enrollment over the past six years has cost the district in excess of $1 million in aid monies.
“When you lose 30 kids, it is not in one grade, but across the district,” Smith said. Fifteen were lost during the last school year and each one represents the loss of $6,267 in state aid monies.
— Sequestration of federal education dollars could mean a loss of $114,000 because Congress has yet to reach an agreement to reduce the budget deficit.
Smith said the best case scenario would cost the district more than $177,000, while the worst case scenario involves the cost/loss of almost $680,000 annually.
District administrators have reviewed food, textbooks and fuel expenditures to save money, “but we don’t have anything left to pull out to avoid deficit spending,” Smith added, reminding directors that deficit spending is prohibited by state law.
The project architect for the district’s recent construction projects, Harold Franklin “Bunny” Brown, went over the of projects that are on the list for the tentative second phase, including an auditorium and facilities to house potential vocational-technical programs.

In addition to the tentative cost estimates from Brown, directors were advised on the status of the school bond market by a representative of the firm that has handled the district’s finances.