Richardson ISD school board members voted to construct a free-standing building with non-traditional programs for students who have dropped out, become disconnected, have difficulty attending due to health problems or simply wish to graduate and move on. The vote Monday was rare in RISD – it wasn’t unanimous.
All trustees agreed with the concept of finding ways to help disengaged students jump back onto a graduation track, and RISD staff said that far more students need non-traditional programming than the capacity of 65 at the district’s current night program held at the Christa McAuliffe Learning Center. The lone dissenter, Lake Highlands resident Justin Bono, questioned the timing and the source of the funds.
Let’s back up.
The non-traditional high school had originally been proposed as a $32 million line item in the 2016 bond package. The program would be downstairs and upstairs would be an Early College High School. As the proposal met with a lukewarm response, the plan was scaled down several times. Finally Monday, the non-traditional program was pulled from the bond to be built from the district’s capital projects funds instead. This does not require a vote by taxpayers, only by trustees. The cost: $12.5 million.
“We are in a year when we have basic needs,” said Bono during discussion before the vote, “and we are going to have to make hard choices. We are taking a piece of that spending out of the taxpayers’ discretion. We have to reflect on taking that off the table. My father led a program like this in another district, I’ve seen it work first-hand. My concern is not the need for the program, it’s the timing. My concern is that we need to take this issue to the community.”
The measure passed 6-1. The facility will open August of 2017. Graduates will receive degrees from their “home” high school (the RISD school they previously attended). The second floor of the building will be used for professional development by the district. Plans for Early College High School are now being studied as a possible program to be housed on each high school campus.
The new building will be adjacent to the RISD Administration Annex, in front of the Greenville Avenue Stadium.
Also at Monday’s meeting were two citizen speakers, parents from White Rock Elementary. They lobbied trustees to include funds in the 2016 bond to alleviate overcrowding at WRE.
“Lake Highlands is experiencing growth across the board due to its proximity to the city center and the reputation of RISD schools,” said Colin Hildinger. “The growth trend in White Rock Valley is primarily due to what the demographers call ‘regeneration,’ or to the turning over of houses from older inhabitants to younger families. In the case of WRV, many of these new families bring 2 to 5 children.
“This year, to get our 38th classroom for our 7th Kindergarten section, we had to turn our staff lounge into a classroom. We could have justified an 8th Kinder class if there had been space, but instead sent those children to neighboring schools.
“In 2017, the current RISD plan becomes unworkable, because another 7 sections of Kinder puts us at 42 classrooms. We don’t have 42 classrooms. As early as 2017, at the current growth trend, WRE is broken even after every RISD-proposed band-aid has been applied.”
“Listening on the listening tour is not enough,” said Shelby Eidson.” Action is needed. By failing to act and plan for growth in the 2016 bond referendum, and instead dealing with overcrowding by busing overflow children to other elementary schools, the Board creates a de facto busing program that will only grow larger with time.”
If you’d like to learn more about the 2016 bond and/or share your opinions with RISD staff and trustees, the 2016 Bond Listening Tour will be at the Lake Highlands High School Library at 6:30 p.m. on December 1.