REDFIELD – Representatives of the Keep Redfield Middle School Task Force asked residents of this Jefferson County community Thursday for support and direction on keeping the school open.
Todd Dobbins, chairman of the task force, and others detailed the options available to Redfield patrons during a meeting at the American Legion Post 343.
The White Hall School Board voted 4-2 Jan. 8 to close the Redfield school at the end of the current school year and move the students to White Hall Middle School.
The options cited include establishment of an open enrollment charter school; obtaining authorization from the state Board of Education for the former Redfield School District to withdraw from the White Hall district, thus reversing the merger of 1950; and home schooling Redfield students.
While the state board has denied the DeWitt School District permission to close Gillett Elementary School, task force members indicated a charter school and obtaining reversal of the closure order could prove costly and time consuming.
“The White Hall School Board will put up a fight,” Dobbins told the crowd. “I say take the tax dollars back.
Petitions for an open enrollment charter school were circulated at the task force sponsored meeting at American Legion Post 343.
Dobbins told the standing-room-only crowd that basic facts were misrepresented to both White Hall and Redfield school patrons in recent years in an orchestrated plan.
He 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.
A copy of an email sent to Dobbins earlier Thursday from the Division of Public School Academic Facilities and Transportation stated the division “does not require or mandate school districts to perform grade reconfigurations within the school district,” according to Dr. Charles C. Stein, division director.
Dobbins said the local school board’s decision to move sixth-grade from local elementary schools to the middle schools and ninth-graders from the middle schools to WHHS left the appearance of a declining enrollment in the elementary and middle schools.
“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 added, noting no record exists of the state department ordering the removal of portable buildings removed from White Hall district campuses.
Alderman Darrell Hedden told the Redfield City Council Jan. 15 that if the middle school is closed, the community expects the White Hall district to turn the building, constructed in the 1930s, over to the municipality for use by local residents.
If the district fails to release the building “with no strings attached,” Hedden said he would ask the council to adopt an ordinance declaring the structure a nuisance and ordering the district to demolish the building.
Dr. Larry Smith, White Hall superintendent, has told the school board a facilities survey indicated it would cost the district between $4.5 and $6 million to renovate the existing Redfield school and $3.5 million to build a new on district-owned property occupied by Hardin Elementary School at Redfield, while closing the middle school and busing its students to White Hall Middle School would just involve transportation costs.
The annual potential savings on personnel and operating costs by closing Redfield Middle School range from $382,000 to $412,000, Smith estimated. The district faces a number of economic issues, so the projected savings at Redfield has increased in importance, he added.
All four Jefferson County school districts have recorded drops in enrollment, cost the White Hall district alone more than $1 million in the past six years, Smith said.
White Hall has “overspent and overbuilt knowing they had a declining enrollment,” Dobbins told the Redfield crowd.
He said the updated facilities plan for the White Hall district calls for the construction of an arts-theater complex at White Hall High School and a multi-purpose building on the WHHS campus for athletics, band and ROTC programs.