DISD trustee now among those questioning school site choice

The densely populated Vickery Meadow area in northeast Dallas, with apartment complexes full of refugees, section 8 housing and mostly poor inhabitants, contains more elementary-aged students than Dallas ISD has room to educate, even with four area schools dedicated mostly to this population.

One of these schools, Jill Stone Elementary, can hold nearly 300 students and is at 126 percent capacity. It “looks more like a cheap motel than a campus that inspires young learners,” stated an October 2015 Dallas Morning News editorial promoting the district’s 2015 bond package, adding that the school was “built as a temporary fix” and “its multiple modular, prefab units wound up as a hardly adequate long-term solution.”

Nearby Hotchkiss Elementary, nestled in the Merriman Park/University Manor neighborhood, can hold a good deal more students — upward of 900 — but is close to capacity. The voter-approved 2015 bond package included $29.51 million to replace Jill Stone and relieve overcrowding at both schools.

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Yesterday, neighborhood residents learned about the district’s proposed solution for that replacement school after Ellen Paulsen, co-owner of City View Antiques, went public with the letter she and other business owners had received, notifying them that DISD had plans to acquire their property via eminent domain. The school would be constructed along the six-lane Skillman thoroughfare between Walling and the White Rock Creek Greenbelt, replacing businesses such as City View, Jake’s Hamburgers and Merriman Park Automotive.

The primary question for businesses — and residents, too, as they learned the news — was, why this site?

After all, it would put two elementary schools in the 700-home Merriman Park/University Manor neighborhood, where homeowners largely have opted out of DISD. District estimates based on census data show that 415 students zoned to Hotchkiss are either private or home schooled. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put a school in Vickery Meadow where the students who attend these schools actually live?

Plus, with Alamo Drafthouse announcing its intention to open into the shopping center across the street, the area seems poised for retail redevelopment.

“I think we need to have a lot more community input before settling on a location,” says Dan Micciche, the East Dallas DISD trustee who represents these schools and the Vickery Meadow area. Micciche was prolific on Facebook yesterday trying to impart calm. “The District’s bond team has indicated that the options are very limited in this part of town. But no final decisions have been made.”

Micciche was one of seven trustees who voted to move forward with plans to purchase these eight tracts of land at the October 2016 board meeting. The discussion before the vote was brief, as the details of real estate deals are not subject to the public meetings act and therefore discussed behind closed doors.

Today, however, “based on the feedback I have received from numerous community members and constituents,” Micciche is “recommending and requesting that the DISD administration take the proposal to acquire the Skillman Ave. property off the table and consider other options for locating the replacement school for Jill Stone.”

He also emphasizes that the board has not authorized the district to begin eminent domain proceedings.

Eminent domain was cited in the district’s communication with businesses because “as part of the protocol in acquiring properties, a letter is sent to each owner of record that includes a reference to the district’s Relocation Assistance Eminent Domain Plan,” a district spokeswoman says, but she concurs with Micciche that “any exercise of eminent domain must be considered and approved by the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees.”

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Micciche notes that his residence on the east side of White Rock Lake makes him particularly sensitive to government entities attempting to seize land.

“I live next to the Arboretum and we had numerous battles with them over the years,” he continues, “so I am going to ensure the community is heard on this. We do have to replace the existing Jill Stone and relieve overcrowding at Hotchkiss but it has to be done in the right place, in the right way with community participation.”

The district is hosting a meeting tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 6 p.m. at Jill Stone to “hear from the community and gather input,” a spokeswoman says.

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  • Los_Politico

    About 500 students transfer out of VM schools, but I don’t know to where. You probably know this, but a number of VM apartment complexes are zoned to Preston Hollow– everything behind Half Price Books, for example.

  • Keri Mitchell

    Los_Politico, there also are a number of students zoned to Vickery Meadow schools who transfer to schools in the Preston Hollow area and elsewhere. Are those accounted for in these figures?

    Transfers are a very interesting DISD phenomenon (though not at all unique to DISD) that we’re looking into on a number of fronts.

  • Los_Politico

    Right after the bond vote DISD published a study of attendance boundaries and building utilization. The 5 elementary schools that draw their student bodies from Vickery Meadows (Rogers, Hotchkiss, McShan, Stone, and Lowe) have a combined capacity of 2,885 seats and an enrollment of 3,153 (as of the study, today it is 3,126– basically the same). This is essentially why there is need for a new school. However, that study also lists 268 students transferring from other schools and into VM schools. 3,153-268 = 2,885.

    You could redraw attendance zones and have the right number of seats with the existing schools, if you limited transfers. You could also do like Garland and have “open-enrollment” for all of the kids in VM to choose which of the 5 campuses they’d like to attend, no need to redraw lines or build new campuses. Seems like an easy win-win solution.