Tarrant DA declines to sue Birdville school district

Posted Friday, Mar. 22, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The Tarrant County district attorney's office has determined that the Birdville school district did not violate state open-meetings laws when deciding what to include in the May 11 bond election.

A residents group -- Keep Richland Open -- was upset that its neighborhood grade school would close as part of the $183.2 million bond package. It filed a complaint last week alleging that the school board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by deciding bond items during workshops and not at regularly scheduled meetings.

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Ann Diamond told the residents in a letter that her office is declining their invitation to sue the district and effectively stop the bond election.

"The Open Meetings Act does not criminalize every alleged error in meeting posting, minute detail, or procedure," Diamond wrote. "Your allegations that the Open Meetings were defective in posting language and/or minute detail do not come within any of the provisions providing criminal penalties."

Gerrit K. Spieker, a spokesman for the group, said Friday that Keep Richland Open will meet this weekend to consult with its attorney.

Combining schools

In its complaint, filed March 13, the group said trustees were not listening to concerns about closing Richland Elementary School, one of two elementary campuses in Richland Hills.

Members of Keep Richland Open also said Birdville officials did not meet with the Richland Hills City Council.

The bond package calls for consolidating four elementary schools. Richland Elementary would close and merge with the larger Birdville campus in Haltom City, and W.T. Francisco students would attend Smith Elementary, also in Haltom City. Birdville and Smith would be rebuilt.

School district officials say they need to close Richland because it's old and its student population is dwindling.

Keep Richland Open opposed the plan, saying students would be in overcrowded classrooms and would have to be bused out of their neighborhood. The group also questioned why a new school couldn't be built on the site of the old building.

The complaint also alleged that when trustees voted to call the bond election Feb. 28, they did not discuss which projects to include before the vote.

During the Jan. 15 and Feb. 11 meetings, the board chose to accept outright some recommendations from the residents bond committee, the complaint stated.

The group wanted the district attorney's office, along with the Texas attorney general, to investigate how the bond election was set and to declare that the Feb. 28 election order was improperly executed.

'Completely untrue'

James B. Morgan, an attorney for the school board, told Spieker in a March 6 letter that the residents bond committee held numerous meetings to discuss the package and that the board also held workshops on what would be included.

However, no decisions were made until the Feb. 28 meeting, when trustees approved the bond election, he wrote.

Mark Thomas, a district spokesman, also wrote in an email to the Star-Telegram on Friday that the allegations that the school board did not meet with city officials are "completely untrue."

Several meetings were held among the school board, city officials and council members, he said.

Thomas also wrote that the two older elementary schools would be replaced with "energy efficient" buildings that are more cost-effective to maintain.

The Richland Elementary students would not be in overcrowded classrooms, because the class sizes would be the same, Thomas said.

The students would not attend "megacampuses," because the new school would be the same size as the campuses in the northern part of the city, he said.

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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