The group of men, women and children -- most of whom donned white shirts in a show of solidarity -- showed up to oppose the district's plan to grab more than 20 residential properties and one business as its moves forward with plans to enlarge the footprint of O.M. Roberts Elementary with a new school building planned for construction just behind the original century-old building located on Grand Avenue between Fair Park and I-30.
After years of being one of the lowest-performing schools in DISD, O. M. Roberts is an "exemplary" school on the mend, housed in a building in need of some major repair work. That's why the new building was earmarked for $22.4 million in funds under the expansive voter-approved $1.35 billion 2008 bond program.
These Jubilee Park property owners don't disagree that with the fact that O. M. Roberts needs work. After all, many of them grew up in the area and spent years walking the school's halls. Instead, the protesters are speaking out against the district's offers for their property, though some say their objections are more about the loss of their homes, neighbors and the neighborhood than the money.
With honking cars whizzing past on Ross Avenue, the group waved signs and posters while chanting in unison: "Save our homes! Save our jobs!"
Inside, after the meeting was called to order and select board members presented their briefing reports, it was time for the public forum.
"Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to speak on behalf of our community," Shawn Busari told the board, speaking on behalf of the residents. She said that when her family moved into their house in 1963, they were the first African American family on the block and that she and her sisters and brothers all went to O. M. Roberts.
She expressed the neighborhood's concern that the proposed plans for the school not only put them out of their homes, but will put elementary-age school children closer to Interstate 30 and the proposed expansions for the busy interstate.
Then she got to the meat of the issue: the cash that DISD's offering for these properties. Agustina Del Rio tells Unfair Park she bought her home 10 years ago for $48,000. And over the past two years, her family's spent approximately $10,000 in remodeling and renovating the house. DISD's first offer: $35,000, though the district has since upped its offer to $45,000. That's still not enough, said Del Rio and her family. But it's not about the money for her, she said, "We don't want to move."
"Where will we go for the money that was offered us?" Busari asked the board. "We need your help."
After her three minutes ran out, Pat Berry spoke on behalf of Vickery Wholesale Greenhouse, which he owns. Berry explained that the greenhouse has been making Dallas a little more colorful since 1952 and now employs 24 folks -- 25 percent of whom walk to work from the surrounding Jubilee Park neighborhood.
We'll have more from Berry later this afternoon, but he told The News that he'd have to file for bankruptcy based on DISD's current offer for his property, which would leave some Jubilee Park residents out of a job.
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He told the board last night that he's not in it for the money.
"I really have no plans to go anywhere," he said. "This isn't about money. I am a part of this community. My employees are a part of the community. And we are not going anywhere for any amount of money. This is not a money issue, and I'm not here to negotiate for more money. I owe it to this community to stay, and I owe it to my 3,000 customers that depend on us." Then, the next two speakers -- both longtime Vickery customers -- spoke on behalf of the business and the 3,000 other clients who rely on Vickery.
"Vickery has been our wholesaler for 25 years," said Betsy Bates, of the award-winning Dallas-based interior and landscaping company Corporate Green. "Vickery is unique. There is no other wholesaler in North Texas that can supply Corporate Green, my company, and all the other plant companies and florists the types of plants we need, when we need them."
The boards sat in silence as the four speakers unloaded. And, less than an hour later, the board approved Consent Agenda Item A. 31., which, among other things, was a resolution allowing DISD to purchase more properties for the "O. M. Roberts Elementary School Replacement Site."