Monday, April 17, 2017

RISD Candidates on WRE Space Needs

I asked the candidates for Richardson ISD Board of Trustees their opinions on a range of subjects. To limit bias on my part, I did not phrase the subjects in the form of questions. I invited the candidates to focus on whatever aspect of the subject they think is most important for RISD voters to consider when casting a ballot on May 6. My desire is to publish the candidates' opinions in their own words, so I will post their responses, unedited and without any accompanying editorial comment.

For readability, I've collated the responses by subject and will post the subjects separately. The topic of this post is "White Rock Elementary Space Needs."

Place 3
  • Joseph Armstrong:
    This has been an issue in the forefront of RISD over the last year or so. Although it is an issue that the board has made a strategic decision on for short term improvement, it is an issue that will come up again. It will also not always be confined to White Rock Elementary. As North Texas continues to grow, and multi-family housing continues to be built, the northern part of the district could face this in the years ahead as well. I think a few things must be done to help us in this process. Having a plan and looking ahead is the most important of those. I think working with the city council of both Dallas and Richardson to project where increases could occur or are occurring now, and then using that information to formulate specific strategies on a campus by campus basis to ensure the continued success of our schools, is key. This could include long term renovation plans, new facilities, and redrawing boundaries (only when this can benefit ALL students involved). As a Trustee, I would offer up my experience as a commercial General Contractor in the Metroplex to bring insight to this process.

  • Karen Clardy:
    White Rock has had a serious growth problem for several years along with a building that is old and has been desperate need of repair. I don’t feel the growth issue was addressed quickly enough nor were the parent’s concerns heard in a timely manner. As a result, instead of being proactive it became a reactive problem. The large addition that is now planned to serve 1,000 elementary students is quite an undertaking but will solve the problem that has concerned parents. Lake Highlands and other RISD schools are facing similar issues that need to be addressed. The White Rock Elementary growth issue is a perfect example of how important it is for a board member to be visible, available and most importantly to listen to the community and take their concerns seriously.

  • Eric Eager:
    The "turning over" of neighborhoods in the White Rock Elementary area took place faster than anyone could have predicted. To address the immediate needs, it was decided to build additional classrooms to expand the capacity of the school. In my opinion, this is a temporary solution and we need to evaluate our options that better suits the community’s needs.

    Lake Highlands is experiencing enough growth that simply redistributing students will not solve the problem. The potential options are to build additional schools or add additional classrooms to existing campuses. These types of decisions will have a multi-generational effect and require a high level of long-term strategic planning.

    We should look for ways to address this problem quickly and not spend years trying to make a decision. However, we need to make sure we have all the necessary information in order to make a good long-term decision. We should collect additional information from local residents, school officials and wait for facility planning professionals to finish their reports. The 2016 bond has money allocated for additional facilities and we should not make a rushed decision. The decision-making process should be conducted in an open and transparent environment. As a community, we should collectively come to a decision that we feel would be best for the current as well as the next generation of families.

  • Ben Prado:
    Our board learned a tough lesson: sometimes it needs to reach out to the community and see what our residents want before it decides to do something a majority of the people are against. Through the intervention of a consulting firm, we learned that the White Rock community is best served by an expansion of the existing elementary school and not with an addition of another school. However, this is a particularly critical time and test of our ability to set and achieve long term strategic goals: are we adequately and properly planning for what might happen 5, 10, or even 15 years down the road? An expansion might be a band-aid fix to the enrollment problem especially if the community sees expected continued growth within the next few years. As a board, we need to make sure we find a proper long term solution - and we will most likely need all of the help we can get in doing so.

Place 6
  • Justin Bono (incumbent):
    It became evident to me early in the 2015-2016 school year that White Rock Elementary was out of room and the problem was going to get worse. Unfortunately, due to reliance on demographic projections for that campus that were inaccurate in 2015, the district found itself behind in planning for this growth. After much discussion, often spirited, in the fall of 2015, the district put funds in Bond 2016 to address growth issues at White Rock and in Lake Highlands as a whole. There is no doubt that more space is needed, and given the enrollment at other surrounding Lake Highlands campuses, there is no choice but to build something to address the situation. I still believe that the right educational answer for our students was to build a new school so that you had two elementary schools of 500-600 students rather than a single large school that will approach 1,100 students in the near future. However, after hearing from the community that this plan wasn’t supported and they wanted to keep their neighborhood together in a single school, we listened and responded by deciding to move forward with an add on of capacity to the existing White Rock campus. This add on is currently in design with a design committee that includes community members and we expect to weigh in on that design and next steps at a board meeting in the coming month or so.

    In addition to an add on at White Rock Elementary, we continue to address ongoing growth across the District. Some notable projects and initiatives:
    • Current classroom additions underway — Northwood Hills Elementary and Mark Twain Elementary.
    • Campus remodel to increase safety and efficiency — Aikin Elementary, Prestonwood Elementary, and Yale Elementary.
    • Land search underway for an additional elementary school campus to be constructed along the LBJ corridor in the Lake Highlands feeder
    • Design underway for the addition of 21 classrooms at Richardson High School which will commence in 2017-2018.
    • Funds included in Bond 2016 for the addition of classrooms at Lake Highlands High School. Timing of that addition is dependent upon recommendation from ongoing capacity and demographic studies.
    • Hired Stantec to conduct updated capacity studies of all 54 campuses district wide. This work is expected to be complete by the end of 2017.
    The Board and the district have made significant operational changes and have brought in third party consulting assistance with the goal to be as proactive as possible in addressing space needs across all campuses as they are needed.

Place 7
  • Lynn Davenport:
    I recognized years ago that we needed to have an action plan to address growth. We were dismissed and given a band-aid solution to the growth problem by adding six classrooms. They failed to give us ample cafeteria space. I was very clear in my request for a long-range plan because I knew the growth would continue. Now we are looking at adding on another 12 classrooms to make it a mega campus. All I wanted was a plan. If I am elected to serve on the Board, I will be able to help solve future growth issues as they move north. RISD is a great place to be and people are still coming!

  • Kristin Kuhne (incumbent):
    White Rock Elementary was just the first step in addressing student population growth across Lake Highlands and the rest of the district. As we’ve deliberated over the last year, we’ve considered the input from hundreds of constituents and ultimately decided to add additional classrooms to enlarge White Rock Elementary. Community design workshops have already begun and I will work with principal Lee Walker to ensure that the campus has all the supports it needs to be successful. While it took time to arrive at this solution, I’ve learned several things from this process that will inform how I address growth moving forward; bring in the community sooner, use an experienced expert and create a long- term strategy for addressing growth. We must shift ‘how we do business’ in RISD and adopt site based decision making, like what we’re doing at White Rock Elementary now. We should continue to use objective third party experts to inform our strategies to address growth going forward. Neighborhood solutions coupled with long term planning will allow the district to continue to welcome new RISD students well into the future.

Part 6 of 6.

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