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Shuttering school town hall topic


Redfield residents are scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the American Legion Post to plan what action they will take should the White Hall School District move to close Redfield Middle School.

The meeting was announced on a Facebook page established after the White Hall School Board briefly discussed the closing as one option for keeping the district fiscally solvent. A number of financial options and issues were discussed by the board Sept. 25 during a three-hour planning session. No votes were taken on the question at that meeting or the Oct. 9 regular board meeting.

A standing room only crowd from Redfield repeatedly discouraged the board last week from closing the middle school. The White Hall district operates the middle school and Hardin Elementary School on separate campuses at Redfield.

Students at the Redfield school score higher academically than their White Hall counterparts and the school is a major part of a growing community, the board was told.

The former Redfield School District was merged with the White Hall district in the late 1940s. Enrollment at the middle school, housed in a WPA-era building, has dropped over the years.

Superintendent Dr. Larry 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.

Amanda Kight, daughter of Redfield Middle School principal James Kight, and Lisa Bartlett said the White Hall district agreed to operate the junior high and elementary schools in Redfield when the merger occurred.

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

Another woman emphasized she and her husband moved to Redfield five years ago because of the community’s schools. 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, a banker, explained the directors are looking at a number of economic issues, including aid the state will make available for physical plant improvements and programs, the soaring 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.

The board won’t know the bottom line on many operational costs in the district until the General Assembly meets early next year, he added.

Smith noted at both board meetings that federal education dollars are in doubt because Congress has yet to reach an agreement to reduce the budget deficit. The threat of sequestration involves $109 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect on Jan. 2 unless Congress reaches a compromise budget accord.

If the Arkansas School Choice Act is overturned in the courts and students are ordered to return to their home districts, the White Hall district would take an immediate $877,000 hit, Smith said

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

Board officers for the 2012-13 were elected at last week’s board meeting. Pittillo was re-elected president, Scott Ray was re-elected vice president and Roy Agee was re-elected secretary.

Board members also drew for terms, a requirement following redistricting and the U.S. Census. 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.

In other business, the board:

— Received a report from Smith on the various financial scenarios and their impact on the district “from the changes that are approaching”;

— Heard the instructional report from Dorothy Welch, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and technology; and

— Recognized White Hall High School girls and boys tennis teams for finishing second in their conference and qualifying for the state tournament, and WHHS students Jake McNulty and Camryn Ruggeri for being named all-conference in golf.