Richland Hills to make pitch to keep elementary school open

Posted Monday, Feb. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Bond package

Total amount of proposed bond package: $183,123,267

Property tax increase: $4.35 per month on a home valued at $100,000. Senior citizens 65 and over will not see a tax increase.

Projects include

School consolidations: $33.60 million.

Security: $2.82 million.

Technology improvements: $29.57 million

Science labs: $15.54 million

Rebuild North Richland Middle: $28.50 million

Rebuild Smithfield Elementary: $13.75 million

Rebuild Academy at West Birdville: $16.80 million

Source: Birdville school district

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RICHLAND HILLS -- The future of Richland Elementary School is in the hands of the Birdville district school board.

And officials and residents of Richland Hills aren't optimistic that the school will remain open.

"Closing Richland Elementary would be a devastating loss for our city," said Richland Hills Mayor Bill Agan.

The school board is considering a proposal that would merge the elementary school with Birdville Elementary School in Haltom City as part of a $183 million bond package. The board is expected to call the May 11 bond election at its meeting Thursday.

Francisco Elementary School would also be closed and merged with Smith Elementary School as part of the package. Both of those schools are in Haltom City.

Besides consolidating the elementary campuses at a cost of $33.6 million -- new schools would be built at both Birdville and Smith elementaries -- the proposed bond package calls for safety and security improvements throughout the district and upgrades to science labs and technology.

If Richland Elementary is closed, only two schools -- Binion Elementary and Richland Middle -- would be left in Richland Hills. The district's other 28 schools are in North Richland Hills (14), Haltom City (10), Watauga (three) and Hurst (one).

Some Richland Hills residents are concerned about their children having to attend a larger school outside of the neighborhood. If children go to Birdville Elementary, they would not be able to walk to school because of heavy traffic, Agan said. The city just built sidewalks throughout the community so that children could walk to school safely, he said.

School district officials say they need to close Richland because the school is old and because its student population is dwindling.

City Manager Curtis Hawk said he understands the school district's quandary, but he also worries about the loss of community.

"Folks like to be near a neighborhood school," Hawk said. "It is much easier to get parents involved."

Hawk said that the City Council directed him to suggest alternatives to closing Richland with Birdville school district officials.

"It would be premature to discuss them publicly," he said.

District spokesman Mark Thomas said it is a difficult decision to close schools, but the trustees and school officials have to look at all of the district's needs.

Thomas said consolidating the schools was one of many proposals from the citizens bond committee that recently submitted recommendations to the school board.

"It was not an easy decision or recommendation to make," said committee member Sharon Mylius. "We had to consider a balanced approach. ... There are so many needs in our district."

Wes Jones, another committee member who lives in Richland Hills, said he favors closing Richland Elementary because the old building is not designed to handle Wi-Fi and other technology used in the classroom.

Jones no longer has children at the school but said, "If I had kids in school, I would move to be closer to the newer school. I'm not going to send my kids to a 50-year-old school."

Jones also questioned why the Richland Hills City Council is weighing in on the possible closing.

"I don't understand the mindset of the City Council," he said.

David White, who has custody of his grandchildren and is also a member of a citizens group opposed to the closing of Richland Elementary, said he doesn't want his 10-year-old grandson to ride the bus to Birdville.

"I'm concerned that people will leave the south side of Richland Hills where we already have vacant houses," he said.

He also worries about overcrowded classrooms at Birdville Elementary.

Thomas said a demographer's report shows that enrollment at Richland is expected to stay the same or decline. Currently, there are 298 students at Richland, according to the district, and enrollment could decrease to 238 in a worst-case scenario.

Closing the two elementary schools could also bring a $15 million savings to the district over the next 10 years, he said.

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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