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AISD board discusses student transfer changes

Monday, April 13, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

Austin Independent School District board members approached student transfer policies last Monday with a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer, with the goal of trying to ease high enrollment in certain schools.

After much discussion, they ended the meeting with an acknowledgment that they had a lot more work to do.

Board members took the lead of Vice President Amber Elenz, who said that she believed tackling district practices was more attainable than an overhaul of transfer policies. She said that goal could be accomplished by fall.

“We will learn through that where our problems are,” Elenz told AISD staff. “You’ll know where our policies are stopping (the superintendent) from being flexible, and then you can come back with a direct request asking us to look at something very specific.”

Board members asked the administration to show the effect that the tracking transfer policy, if changed, would have on campus enrollment numbers. AISD’s current tracking policy allows transfer students who attended a particular middle school for two consecutive years to attend that area’s high school, even if it is out of their attendance zone.

The only problem is crowding in some district schools, such as South Austin’s Bowie High School, while enrollment at other schools, such as Travis High School, is too low. AISD considers tracking “priority transfers,” meaning the district usually will grant them as long as students submit requests by deadline, regardless of enrollment at their chosen school.

Elenz proposed taking middle schools whose student body splits between two high schools and directing the tracking transfer applicants to the high school with lower enrollment.

“Somewhere, someone gave them a choice,” Elenz said. “Their choice in tracking should not be the school that is overcrowded.”

It would automatically redirect at least 305 students away from Bowie High School, she said.

The remainder of the discussion focused on how to change AISD’s numerous transfer policies, which contribute to uneven enrollment figures on various campuses.

Board members also debated the district’s Diversity Choice Program and what role, if any, it should play in the future.

The program allows students who live in certain attendance zones to transfer to outside schools, with the district providing bus transportation. Currently, not all of the program’s lower schools feed into the upper middle- and high schools, Superintendent Paul Cruz said.

Board Member Kendall Pace said the Diversity Choice Program, which began in 1988, is “inherently unfair,” given the out-of-date schools currently included. The aim of the program was to maintain diversity after a court-mandated integration program ended.

“I would like to note (that) the numbers are dropping,” Elenz added.

According to district documents, in 2001-2002 there were 732 Diversity Choice transfer students, but in 2014-2015, there were only 165.

Reacting to the numbers, Board Member Robert Schneider said the Diversity Choice policies seemed like “relics that have held over for way too long.” He said he would be in favor of an application process in which students could transfer if they met certain standards.

Board President Gina Hinojosa said, if tweaked, Diversity Choice could deal with the district’s growing economic segregation better than its other transfer policies.

Hinojosa also said that in terms of overhauling policy, the board needed help from district staff.

AISD staff will bring proposed transfer policy changes specifically dealing with diversity issues to the AISD Policy Board for consideration at a future date.


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