WHITE HALL, Ark. (KTHV) -- The people of Redfield are battling to try to convince the White Hall School Board not to close Redfield Middle School.
Tuesday night, dozens of parents and students jammed into the school board meeting in White Hall to make their case for saving the school.
One parent submitted a petition that she said had more than 200 signatures from supporters of Redfield Middle School, signatures gathered just in the past week since parents first learned that the school may be closed.
The superintendent and the school board president said that Redfield Middle School may have to close at the end of this school year, or at the end of the 2013-2014 school year, in part because of the district's declining enrollments and revenues, and rising expenses.
But Redfield parents pointed out that while enrollments are declining, overall, across the district, Redfield's student population is up ten percent this school year compared with last school year.
There are now 120 students at Redfield MS, which was built in 1935.
If the school is closed, the students would transfer to the only other middle school in the district, White Hall MS, which was built less than ten years ago and where there are more than 600 students. According to the superintendent, there is plenty of room for more.
Parents at Tuesday night's school board meeting said they didn't want their children having to commute the extra 20 or 30 minutes, one way, to White Hall Middle School. And they questioned whether the board is wasting money elsewhere in the district, money that could be spent keeping Redfield MS open.
School Board President Scott Pittillo read a statement emphasizing that closing Redfield MS is only one option of many that the board must consider -- because of dwindling resources, not wasteful spending. Pittillo said the board has not made any decisions about any of the options.
"We hear all these plans about possibly closing Redfield, but then planning to build all these other facilities," said one of the Redfield parents, Amanda Kight. "So in words you're telling me, 'Oh no we haven't voted on that,' but in actions you're telling me 'We've already decided that we're doing that, and we're moving on.' You know, if you get rid of schools, that's the heart of your community."
Today's THV asked the school superintendent, Dr. Larry Smith, "Is there any way that the board can make the numbers work to keep the school open?"
"It's going to be extremely difficult, I think, to do that," Smith replied. "We do understand. And Redfield Middle School is a vital part of the community, we certainly understand and appreciate that fact.... We have districts in the state that the state has had to take over because of not watching their finances. And we don't want to be in that situation.... And part of what we're going to have to look at is the cost to bring that 75-year-old campus up to code and suitability, for students. And the cost of that is going to be extremely expensive. And the board is going to have to weigh that against the benefit of it and make a decision as to which direction they want to go."
Smith said the cost of the renovations that the state would require could reach more than $7 million.
Parents at the school board meeting said that the board should, in fact, either renovate Redfield MS or build a new Redfield MS, just as the board built a new middle school in White Hall in 2003. Doing so, they said, would encourage even more people to move into Redfield, which would increase school enrollments and revenues.
The school board is expected to decide within a few months what to do with Redfield Middle School.
Parents are using a Facebook page, KeepRedfieldMiddleSchool, to organize their efforts to save Redfield MS.
(Written by Jon Shirek)