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Southwest Key offers plan to lease Eastside Memorial campus

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

In the midst of crisis, Southwest Key sees an opportunity. Yesterday, the non-profit delivered a formal proposal requesting the lease of Eastside Memorial High to East Austin Prep Academy at the rate of $1 per year for the next 99 years, a move they claim could save the Austin Independent School District $80 to $100 million dollars over the next 10 years.

 

This is not the first time Southwest Key has expressed interest in the former Johnston High School, which is located just blocks from their national headquarters.

 

“There have been discussions for many years, ever since the state intervened and actually ended up shutting the school down and then re-purposing it,” said consultant Paul Saldaña, who spoke to In Fact Daily at the Southwest Key offices. “There has always been an interest on the part of East Austin College Prep Academy and Southwest Key about taking over the education in the neighborhood.” Saldaña said the academy, which is a non-profit subsidiary of Southwest Key, in making the request to AISD.

 

Though Eastside Memorial is not among those schools listed for potential closure by the Facilities Master Plan Task force, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has pointed to the school as an example of a school with inefficiencies that need to be addressed.

 

Eastside Memorial currently houses three separate administrations and has had ongoing struggles to operate at capacity and up to academic standards. “At a minimum, Eastside Memorial should be consolidated,” said Carstarphen during January’s emergency School Trustee meeting.

 

Currently, the prep academy, a charter school operated by Southwest Key, consists of sixth and seventh grade and has about 200 students. They plan to add eighth grade next year, independent of the acquisition of Eastside Memorial.

 

“Let’s say we’re successful in facilitating a lease agreement with AISD, then we would actually contemplate going ahead and adding eighth and ninth grade,” said Saldaña. “The plan is that within five years we will have about 800 students in the school.”

 

Plans for the site show a campus that also offers adult education, health services, and community resources for youth and adults. It was in these aspects that Saldaña saw opportunity for collaboration with the city, something that he mentioned at the last week’s City Council meeting in regards to the school budget crisis, although he refrained from mentioning Southwest Key specifically.

 

Saldaña explained that while similar collaboration with AISD could be arranged, this was not the vision for Eastside Memorial.

 

“What we are proposing is a long-term lease agreement where we report directly to the state. AISD is not involved,” said Saldaña. “Basically, EACPA coordinates and is held to accountability standards by the State of Texas. We want to be separate and apart from AISD.”

 

Martha Cotera, who serves on the board of East Austin College Prep Academy and is a founding member of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke to In Fact Daily about her support of the proposal.

 

“The gains that we have made after the civil rights movement all have gone by the wayside, so I think that it’s time to restructure and, honestly, I don’t think that the district has offered, unfortunately, a lot of working solutions,” said Cotera. “They have a lot of support in the East Austin community, and they are one of the few non-profits that are actually run by minority people for minority people.”

 

Cotera expressed that a more community-based approach which focuses on families as well of students might serve as a new model for success in communities where public schools have previously failed. “Meria keeps saying ‘Show me the way’,” said Cotera. “I hope to see that these schools can help to point the way and show the public schools how to improve.”

 

AISD officials did not return calls requesting a comment.

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