Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect that Greenwood Hills Elementary students will attend Mohawk Elementary, Northrich Elementary and Canyon Creek Elementary.

Despite impassioned pleas from numerous students, parents and community members, Richardson ISD officials are moving forward with plans to close and consolidate four elementary schools, in addition to getting rid of busing students to schools outside of their designated attendance zone.

Amid a looming budget shortfall and a declining student population, the RISD board of trustees unanimously voted to move forward with Project RightSize at its March 21 meeting, creating a path to closing the schools and shuffling students to new campuses for the 2024-25 school year.

“This is a very difficult day for RISD,” Superintendent Tabitha Branum said in a news release. “Unfortunately, our financial realities are clear, and this is one of several necessary steps to ensuring our district can continue to educate, serve and academically grow students moving forward.”

The details

Schools selected for consolidations include Greenwood Hills Elementary, Thurgood Marshall Elementary, Springridge Elementary and Spring Valley Elementary—all campuses that Sandra Hayes, assistant superintendent of district operations, previously said are all nearly 60% under capacity, have declining enrollment numbers and high maintenance costs due to their age.

Also for the 2024-25 school year, RISD is doing away with noncontiguous attendance boundaries, meaning students who are currently bused to schools with different attendance zones would attend the school nearest to them. The strategy of using noncontiguous boundaries was adopted a few years ago to balance enrollment at schools serving multifamily housing largely in the Lake Highlands area of Dallas.

As approved by the board, Greenwood students will be split between attending Mohawk Elementary, Northrich Elementary and Canyon Creek Elementary. Thurgood students will now attend Skyview Elementary, Audelia Creek Elementary, Forestridge Elementary, Forest Lake Elementary and Northlake Elementary based on where they live. Springridge students will be divided into Yale and Dartmouth elementaries. Spring Valley students will now largely attend Northwood Hills Elementary, while some will now attend Hamilton Park Elementary.

According to a presentation given to the board, the moves would put all elementary campuses in the district above at least 66% utilization.

The context

The move comes as RISD is facing an expected $28 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2024-25, which would be the fifth consecutive budget shortfall adopted by the board. It also comes as the Texas Legislature has failed to increase public education funding since FY 2018-19, Branum said.

In addition to budgetary issues, the district is also seeing declining enrollment. As of 2023, RISD had more than 36,000 students in total, a decline of about 2,500 students since the pandemic. According to a demographic report presented to the board Jan. 18, the district is expected to lose around 3,600 more students, a 9% decrease, in the next five years.

The consolidation plan is expected to reduce expenditures by around $10.8 million annually, in addition to bringing in an estimated $10 million in one-time funds. Removing noncontiguous attendance boundaries is expected to save the district about $300,000 annually.

“Our overall goal in addressing budget challenges is to minimize the impact on the programs and services we offer to students, and allow us to continue to provide educators with competitive compensation so we can attract and retain the quality staff necessary to continue our students’ academic growth,” Branum said.

What’s next?

RISD officials said they plan to host multiple informational and welcoming events to help integrate students into their new schools prior to the next school year. In addition, staff plans to work on requesting new school zone locations and crossing guard duties within its borders in Richardson and Dallas.

According to district documents, students impacted by the consolidations will be given priority status in any transfer request, provided space is available.

“This will not be the last measure we must consider to right size our operating budget, but it is certainly the most painful,” Branum said.