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Richardson school board votes unanimously to close four schools in the next few years

A screenshot of Richardson ISD's March 21, 2024 board meeting shows Superintendent Tabitha Branum speaking in front of a microphone.
Richardson ISD
Richardson ISD Superintendent Tabitha Branum speaks during the school board meeting on March 21, 2024. She says the district has already worked to cut costs, and that closing five schools over the next few years is the only option to prevent a $28.5 million shortfall.

Despite objections from frustrated parents and students, Richardson ISD’s board of trustees voted unanimously Thursday night to move forward with plans to close four campuses in an effort to cut costs.

For weeks, Richardson Superintendent Tabitha Branum has described the need for what the district calls “Project RightSize” — falling enrollment, shrinking classrooms, emptier schools, and a desire to pay more for Richardson’s teachers and programs.

On top of that, lawmakers haven’t increased state education funding since 2018-19 even as the population grew, inflation broke records, and the state boasted a $33 billion surplus last year.

Closing some schools would save $11 million annually, and another $10 million in one-time savings.

Schools with less than 60% capacity were targeted, said Branum. They include Greenwood Hills, Springridge, Thurgood Marshall and Spring Valley elementary schools, which will be consolidated into other campuses in the district.

Redrawn boundaries, though, will not only mean kids from closed schools will go to different campuses, but some students in schools staying open may be re-assigned.

Many students in Dartmouth Elementary in the Springridge boundary zone, like Alyssa Eckstein, will now be forced to attend Yale Elementary because of where her family lives.

Calling herself a “COVID generation kid” who started kindergarten in 2019, Eckstein said school’s been pretty tough, learning from a screen.

“It felt impossible to make friends, and was so hard to learn,” she said. “Can’t you see I’ve been through so much already?

She told trustees if the new boundary splits her neighborhood in half, “every single one of my friends will be rezoned. And my heart will be too. You are stealing my friendships. I will have yet another change. Please, please don’t divide our Ducks [the Dartmouth Elementary mascot]. Ducks should fly together.”

Parents made the same arguments: Keep the Ducks together. They complained the decision was too fast and needed to slow down.

But Branum argued otherwise. The district has already made staff cuts to save millions. She said she’d hoped for state lawmakers to increase education funding in the last legislative session, but that didn’t happen.

“We are at a place now where we have to control our financial stewardship and make decisions in the best way we can,” Branum said. “There’s no perfect plan, but it’s the best plan that we can make moving forward to ensure the long term sustainability of Richardson ISD.”

Trustees voted 7-0 to change attendance boundaries for each targeted school. Closures will begin during the next school year; the district also plans to close and repurpose Dobie Pre-Kindergarten School in the 2025-26 school year.

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.