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Dallas ISD Looks to Close 11 Campuses Next School Year, Hopes to Save $11.5 Million

The DISD will look to consolidate, or close, the exemplary-rated James Bonham Elementary next school year.
The DISD will look to consolidate, or close, the exemplary-rated James Bonham Elementary next school year.

As we mentioned Monday, the Dallas ISD trustees just got through discussing a very touchy subject: school consolidations and the repurposing of facilities -- or closures, for those who aren't sensitive to the subject matter. In all, DISD higher-ups are recommending shuttering 11 schools, nine elementary campuses and two middle schools, come the start of next school year. Following the meeting of the trustees' ad hoc committee, the district posted to its website a School Consolidations website, where you will also find the preliminary demographic study presented moments ago.

You will note that among those recommended for closure is one of the district's most celebrated campuses: James Bonham Elementary School, rated exemplary and a 2010 Blue Ribbon award winner. Expect principal Sandra Fernandez to be in high demand elsewhere in the district, if Bonham is indeed closed down and its students are sent to Robert E. Lee and Ben Milam, as proposed.

According to the presentation, the overall costs savings for the district would be $11.5 million -- no small amount, considering what's coming.

"This makes sense financially, but you really have to consider these when the district is facing another $38 million decrease in state funding, and we already cut nearly $80 million this current year," district spokesman Jon Dahlander tells Unfair Park. "You're going to have to make some real cost reductions some place, and this appears to save approximately $11.5 million."

According to Pat Guseman of Population and Survey Analysts, demographers employed by the district who gave the presentation to the ad hoc committee, DISD has lost 1,600 students between 2006 and the start of the 2011 school year -- in large part because of "apartments being town down." (Interestingly, PASA's website shows DISD as having lost 4,206 students between 2005-'06 and 2010-'11, while district figures show a rather level enrollment in recent years.) And no matter how much multifamily housing is built between now and whenever, she said, they ain't coming back in the foreseeable future. (By the way, look at those Frisco ISD enrollment numbers -- absolutely staggering when compared to the other districts in the area.)

"Remarkably the charter schools have been fairly stable in more recent years and have around 13,500 students," Guseman said. "Private schools that have DISD-enrolled students have around 18,700. These are students from within DISD boundaries, which represents 17 percent of total student population." And, she says, charters and private schools are expecting further growth: By 2015, the trustees were told, they expect to have 20,000 kids in charter schools and another 20,000 in private schools.

Some of the schools recommended for closure are under capacity; City Park, for instance, holds 414 students, but its fall 2011 enrollment is at 214, while D.A. Hulcy Middle School on S. Polk has 555 students attending a campus build to hold more than 1,200. But Arlington Park is actually over capacity -- which is why PASA is recommending its students be sent to Onesimo Hernandez and Maple Lawn, where enrollment is half of capacity.

But keep in mind: Just because a school's closed doesn't mean it can't be reopened. In 1981, for instance, six schools were shuttered: Nathan Adams, Dealey, DeGolyer, Kramer, Withers and T.C. Hassell -- five of which have since been reopened. And in '82, Hexter and Hotchkiss were mothballed, only to be resurrected as neighborhood needs demanded their reopening. As the demographers told the committee: The campuses would be "idled and vacated so the facilities would be available."

That, of course, will do nothing to calm the nerves of the principals, students, staff and parents of students at the 11 schools that stand to be affected by today's suggestions, which will go before the full board next month on the way to public hearings in advance of a final vote in January.

"We're also going to be opening up new schools in the next year, so staff will have opportunities to go to new schools or follow kids to other campuses," Dahlander says. "That's important too: The principals, teachers and staff will have an opportunity to apply for positions at campuses where students will be transferred. As Interim Superintendent Alan King says, just because a school's population has declined over time does not mean these educators are not valuable to us. They are."

A release from the district concerning school consolidations was just sent out. It's below.

AD HOC COMMITTEE RECEIVES RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SCHOOL CONSOLIDATIONS

Estimated Savings of $11.5 Million; Trustees to Consider in January

DALLAS-An ad hoc committee of the Board of Trustees received a recommendation today that eleven schools, including 9 elementary schools and 2 middle schools, be considered for consolidation with other campuses beginning next school year as a cost-saving measure.

After receiving $63 million less from the state during the current school year and cutting nearly $80 million, Dallas ISD is facing another $38 million decrease in state funding during the 2012-13 school year as a result of cuts to public education by the Texas Legislature.

In accordance with established district policy, the schools recommended for consolidation with others are predominantly campuses that are significantly underutilized, have low enrollment or are in close proximity to other campuses with available student capacity.

The overall cost savings are estimated at approximately $11.5 million.

"This past spring, the citizens budget review commission recommended to the board and the administration that the district examine the possibility of consolidating campuses with others to save money," said Interim Superintendent of Schools and Chief Financial Officer Alan King. "This is just the first step in that process. There will be public hearings followed by a scheduled vote of the board in January that will include numerous attendance boundary changes."

The schools recommended for consolidation with other campuses include: City Park Elementary School; Julia C. Frazier Elementary School; Phillis Wheatley Elementary School; N.W. Harllee Elementary School; Arlington Park Elementary School; James W. Fannin Elementary School; James B. Bonham Elementary School; Oran M. Roberts Elementary School; D.A. Hulcy Middle School; H.S. Thompson Elementary School; and, during the 2013-14 school year, Pearl C. Anderson Middle School.

A majority of the schools recommended for consolidation have less than 300 students. Seven of the eleven campuses recommended for consolidation with others are operating at less than 60% capacity. The $11.5 million in savings would be a result of having less administrative overhead, reduced utility costs, reduced maintenance and custodial costs and possibly fewer teachers.

Principals, teachers and staff at schools that are consolidated with others will have an opportunity to apply for positions at campuses where students will be transferred. They will also have the opportunity to apply for other available teaching positions within the district.

"Every effort will be made to provide other opportunities within the district for these teachers and other staff," said King. "Just because a school's population has declined over time does not mean that these educators are not valuable to us -- they are."

The recommendations to the Ad Hoc Committee of the Board of Trustees are the first step in a process that is defined by board policy. The board will discuss the recommendations in December and public hearings will be held in December and January. In order to get ready for the 2012-13 school year, a vote by the board of trustees on consolidating campuses and corresponding attendance zone changes will be scheduled for January.

"These recommendations are not made lightly. After last year's cuts of $80 million, there are simply few options available to make additional cost reductions that are significant," said King. "These are hard choices and they will not be popular, but shifting demographics and declining resources make them necessary. It should be noted that at least seven schools impacted in the past have re-opened as a result of changing demographic patterns. "

In the early 1980s, students attending several Dallas ISD schools with declining enrollment were transferred to other campuses. Those schools have long since been re-opened and are now thriving.


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