Fort Worth school district must fund artificial turf for high school fields

Athletes use artificial turf at Arlington Heights High School.
Athletes use artificial turf at Arlington Heights High School. Star-Telegram

As a product of a “separate but equal” school system in Fort Worth, I recognize when campuses are being short-changed by the district’s governing board.

After integration, the promise and the hope for the district was that every school would be housed in a quality building, staffed with qualified and caring faculty and equipped with the essential educational materials to ensure every child had an equal opportunity to succeed.

Of course that didn’t always happen — and it sometimes showed, not so much in the curriculum as it did in facilities.

I recall moderating a youth town hall meeting in 1993 where young people from all over the city gathered to address their concerns to 11 community leaders, including the mayor, city manager, police chief and school board president.

One student from Dunbar High School, which was and is predominantly black, urged that the school board bring athletic profits back to the school. He noted that Dunbar, a consistent basketball powerhouse with a traditionally good football team, brought in thousands of dollars to the district through its athletic program, but it didn’t have lights on its practice field.

Checking later, I discovered that it was the only high school that didn’t have lights on its practice field, an obvious disparity.

The night of the town hall, school board President Gary Manny replied immediately, “You deserve to have lights, and you will get your lights.”

Manny kept that pledge, and somehow the district found the money to install lights at Dunbar.

Today, there’s a similar issue, but one that involves 11 of the 13 high schools.

Two schools, Paschal and Arlington Heights, have artificial turf on their fields, thanks to their active and highly productive booster clubs and the board of education.

The schools paid for the turf with $712,000 interest-free loans, which the booster clubs agreed to repay by 2017.

As the district planned a bond issue in 2013, with then Superintendent Walter Dansby insisting on “equity” in schools, a proposal called for installing artificial turf at all high schools. As the bond wish list was whittled from about $700 million to $490 million, the synthetic turf was taken out.

In its place, the bond package approved by voters included $1 million for each high school to upgrade athletic field houses.

Since then, leaders at some schools, South Hills and Southwest high schools in particular, have said they don’t need or want field house upgrades but would like to use the money for artificial turf.

In September, the board voted unanimously to “approve authorization to adjust the scope of work related to athletic facilities in the 2013 Capital Improvement Program.” Some people, including at least one board member, took that to mean the schools could use the money for turf, but the administration and bond program staff weren’t very receptive to that idea.

Late last month, interim superintendent Pat Linares said the district is “researching any way to provide turf fields for our schools because they are needed.”

Trustees must find a way to fund these projects, if for no other reason than to keep Fort Worth schools from returning to “separate but equal.”

Bob Ray Sanders' column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775

Twitter: @BobRaySanders