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Zilker residents rally against closure of neighborhood school

Thursday, January 13, 2011 by Austin Monitor

More than 100 sign-waving supporters of Zilker Elementary School gathered at the school Thursday afternoon to talk about their love of the school and what it means to their neighborhood.


Parent Liz Scanlon and realtor Peach Reynolds were among those opposing a task force plan to close nine neighborhood schools, including Zilker and nearby Barton Hills. But unlike the emotional pleas heard at Wednesday night’s meeting, Scanlon and Reynolds offered some clear reasoning for keeping their school open. A smaller contingent of Barton Hills parents and kids also gathered at Zilker to voice support for their school.


Scanlon told In Fact Daily, “What I feel is that we need to get the task force to put the brakes on and make this whole process rewind, make this whole process accurate and start from scratch in a way that makes sense—because, right now, none of it does.”


Asked to point out problems with the task force’s methodology, Scanlon said, “There are a number of inaccuracies. They re using demographics that are not accurate. They’re not including transfers for either Zilker or Barton Hills. They’re also saying our neighborhood community is declining, and instead, our neighborhood is building,” he said. “I have 20 kids under 10 on my tiny little block, tons of babies. What I’ve been told is they did a study based on housing—where they guessed what kinds of families were going to move into what kinds of homes. Like condos, they said a family would never live there. They also said most of neighborhood is too expensive for families. Most of the families I know moved into a littler house and paid higher taxes in order to go to this school. So, the demographics are wrong to begin with.”


Scanlon also said that the task force also stated that the schools were in disrepair.  “They say it would be more reasonable to do a new building (but that’s only) if they did pie in the sky repairs,” she said. “They did the study two years ago. Since then (Zilker) has had five new bathrooms added, and there are playgrounds, murals, portables painted, because that is what’s been happening here for 60 years: They have been maintaining the building.”


She said there are millions of dollars in bond funds that AISD promised taxpayers they would use for the school that they are planning to close. “The bathrooms in the school were built in August,” she said. “They’re brand new, and the statistics the task force is using is that they’re 60 years old and they’re crumbling down around us. Honestly, as a parent, we wouldn’t allow our kids to go here if the building was crumbling around us. So, it doesn’t add up.” 


Reynolds, whose real estate office is just two blocks north of the school, said, “The lifeblood of any neighborhood is its children and the desirability of a neighborhood school is essential to attraction of other young families as they grow. As the kids grow up and go off to school, they need to be able to come back to the neighborhood and raise a family when it’s their turn.”


Asked how closing the school might impact property values, Reynolds said, “In fact, there was a study (which showed) a difference of 9.9 percent,” between neighborhoods with schools and those without. From experience, he said, “Many buyers would gravitate away from this neighborhood.”


He concluded, “We do live in a democracy and hopefully, the leaders that be are listening.” Neighborhood leaders chartered two buses to take interested parents and children to tonight’s school task force meeting.

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