The White Hall School Board was expected to act Tuesday night on Superintendent Dr. Larry Smith’s recommendation that the district close Redfield Middle School at the end of the current school year and move the school’s students to White Hall Middle School.
Representatives of the ad hoc task force opposed to the proposed closure of asked the school board last Thursday for another year to demonstrate Redfield’s growth warrants keeping the school open.
Todd Dobbins, who has headed the task force, and others from Redfield acknowledged that the enrollment, a facility survey and financial data cited by Smith are very realistic. Dobbins said he has “gained respect” for the board and Smith, acknowledging they face a difficult decision “and it’s not going to get easier.”
Dobbins cited recent residential developments and potential economic projects in Redfield that he said will add enrollment to the White Hall district, but acknowledged the task force could not provide firm numbers on enrollment at the school.
Board President Scott Pittillo said the board asked Smith to obtain the latest data on funding, facilities and enrollment, critical information that will be used to make a decision on the proposed closure of a building constructed in the 1930s.
Smith said the facilities survey indicated it would cost the district:
— Between $4.5 and $6 million to renovate the existing Redfield school;
— $3.5 million to move the Redfield Middle School to the site occupied by Hardin Elementary School at Redfield; and
— Move Redfield’s middle school students to White Hall Middle School at no additional cost other than transportation.
Smith estimated the proposed annual savings on personnel and operating costs by closing Redfield Middle School ranged from $382,000 to $412,000.
The superintendent has noted that a number of financial factors, including retirement contributions, insurance and state funding, can’t be resolved until the Arkansas General Assembly concludes the session that begins Monday.
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 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.
The task force has discussed petitioning the Arkansas Board of Education for authority to operate a carter school in Redfield if the middle school is closed and a bid to succeed from the White Hall district. However, those issues were not raised during Thursday’s joint meeting at the district’s administration building.
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.
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.
Task force members have noted students at Redfield Middle School score higher academically than their White Hall counterparts and the school is a major part of a growing community.
Amanda Kight, task force member, said the Redfield school’s enrollment is up 10 percent this school year, encouraging the school board to “look at the opportunities, not costs.
A number of decisions, including the Redfield school, must be made early this year, Smith said, noting teacher contracts for the 2013-14 school year go out in February.