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Concerned Richardson ISD parents ask why their schools have to close

Woman with microphone talking to a room of people in school cafeteria
Bill Zeeble
Richardson Superintendent Tabitha Branum faces parents at an open meeting, explaining why the district might close five elementary schools in the next few years.

Richardson ISD held the first of five parent listening sessions Monday night following last week's announcement that the district plans to close five schools in the coming years.

Under "Project RightSize," Greenwood, Springridge, Spring Valley and Thurgood Marshall elementary schools will be consolidated with neighboring schools starting in the upcoming school year, and Dobie Pre-K will close beginning in 2025.

At Monday’s listening session at JJ Pearce High School, parent Travis Fitzgerald was frustrated his child’s school, Greenwood Hills Elementary, is among those targeted.

“We love it. Love it,” Fitzgerald said of the school, after the meeting. “We've never even really considered transferring out of the school. We love the administration. We love the diversity.

"It's just a blow to know that that building won't have students in it. Every time that I go walk my kids to school, that's just one more day closer to where I won't necessarily be able to do that.”

Fitzgerald sympathizes with the district’s woes. He understands school districts across Texas haven’t seen more state funding in five or six years.

What’s more, Richardson ISD says it’s lost at least 2,200 students since the pandemic. Each of the four elementary schools slated to close is at less than 60% capacity.

Another parent, Laurie Evans, has three children in Richardson schools. Her youngest might now have to switch campuses if Project RightSize gets approved next month.

“The crappy thing is,” said Evans, “they're saying my kid can walk to Canyon Creek all the way down Campbell, across two major intersections. We’ve been there 11 years now. To have to switch our last two years kind of sucks.”

Richardson Superintendent Tabitha Branum said last week that RISD is facing serous funding problems that nearly every district in Texas is experiencing for the same reasons: “This is really a result of increased requirements, increased inflation, and no new additional dollars coming into the system,” Branum said.

She also said if nothing changes, RISD could be facing a $28.5 million deficit.

“It is with an absolute commitment that we are going to put our students and our staff and our parents first,” Branum said during the board meeting. "But ... if we are going to create a budget that is sustainable, if we are going to prioritize what we need to do for kids, we have to do things differently."

The district estimates the closures would save nearly $11 million a year and add an estimated $10 million in one-time funds. But Branum stressed the deficit "is not not a result of poor stewardship by past administrations or previous boards."

Superintendents statewide have called for more state education funding from a legislature that hasn’t increased school funding since 2019. Despite the state’s recent record budget surplus, state lawmakers added no education funding for schools last year.

In a statement released over the weekend, Democratic state Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos, who represents parts of Richardson and whose son attends school in the district, said Gov. Greg Abbott is holding school funding "hostage" as he pushes for a state voucher program.

"I grieve with the parents preparing to uproot their children from familiar routings and friendships, and I am enraged at the failure of the Texas Legislature to act," Ramos said. Abbott's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Richardson ISD will continue holding listening sessions at schools around the district:

  • Elementary school impact in Berkner Learning Community: Feb. 27, Berkner High School Auditorium – 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Elementary school impact in Richardson Learning Community: Feb. 28, Richardson High School Auditorium – 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
  • Elementary school impact in Lake Highlands Learning Community: March 4, Lake Highlands High School H Building Auditorium – 6:00 – 7:30 p.m. (H Building is the former Freshman Center – 10200 White Rock Trail)
  • Dobie Pre-Kindergarten School impact: March 5, RISD Academy – 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.