AISD to move forward with equity assessment
The Austin Independent School District Board decided Monday to move forward with a self-assessment on educational equity in the district, although what that assessment will look like is still in the works. The board voted 7-1, with District 7 board member Robert Schneider opposing.
“I am in a very, very different place,” said Schneider. “As I’ve said before, the Texas Civil Rights Project is simply using the district to fulfill its own assessment work, which they haven’t done with any degree of fidelity, and the work that was done was pretty thoroughly refuted by the administration a couple of years ago when it was just brought forward.”
In a separate decision, board members unanimously voted to convert its ad hoc Historically Underutilized Business Committee into a standing committee, which will spearhead the district’s effort to ensure equity throughout AISD and provide a framework for the self-assessment.
District 6 board member Paul Saldaña, the former chair of the HUB committee, will lead the new AISD Board Oversight Committee on Excellence Through Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The direction and goals of the self-assessment have still not been determined, and Schneider said he maintains his belief that they need to lay out a road map so the district can properly figure out what it is measuring, and how much the measuring will cost.
“We are setting ourselves up for failure to achieve a goal of what equity and equality looks like in this district without knowing what we are trying to get to in the long run,” he said.
Schneider said that in the past, board members tried to tackle the issue of weighted student funding in a grant-funded study that cost $2 million.
“It didn’t even take into consideration other issues that I think should be included, like teacher quality, as an example, program fidelity and program access, or any of the other things, and we’ve got a $2 million price tag that we started with,” Schneider said. “How we are going to do this on any sort of legitimate basis is just something I don’t have any idea how it is going to happen.”
District 1 board member Edmund Gordon said he would like to have a cost-effective approach, but that it seemed to him “almost any price was worth the construction of a just system.”
Gordon said if the district did not address the issue of equity, it would be its “death knell.” As more black, Hispanic or poor students move into AISD with different learning needs and school performances subsequently plummet, the middle-class white students would move out, causing AISD to become like every other urban school district, he said.
District 2 Board Member Ann Teich requested an amendment to the resolution stating the equity committee only creates the framework with the help of the administration, leaving the final approval of all steps and budget to the board of trustees.
District 5 board member and vice president Amber Elenz requested the administration keep board members informed of the self-assessments progress.
The conversation to create the new committee came after the Texas Civil Rights Project called upon the district to begin a self-assessment in January. The project brought AISD’s attention to a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education, dated Oct. 1, 2014.
The Texas Civil Rights Project, which threatened to sue AISD or file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, is claiming there is a disparity between the resources and opportunities given to affluent students and their low-income peers who reside in Northeast and East Austin.
The civil rights group also brought the issue of equity before the board in 2012, said Joe Berra, the group’s attorney. It has had ongoing conversations with AISD board members since then and produced an in-depth report in September 2014, he said.
Past board members have tried to address equity concerns. Current board members Teich and Schneider put in a board agenda item request in October 2014 to define “equity” and “equal” in the context of AISD operations and programming.
Join Your Friends and Neighbors
We're a nonprofit news organization, and we put our service to you above all else. That will never change. But public-service journalism requires community support from readers like you. Will you join your friends and neighbors to support our work and mission?