Tuesday, April 14, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

AISD board reacts to threat from charter schools

Austin Independent School District board members have urgently requested a policy change that would curtail area charter school districts’ access to student information.

At the board’s dialogue meeting last Monday, members learned that nearby charter schools have been filing Public Information Act requests with AISD to get student information. The schools then sent students informational fliers attempting to lure them away from AISD.

“It’s a state law matter for us, it’s the driving law, and what the law tells us is we can create a policy, and within that policy we can limit what it is we must disclose,” said Mel Waxler, attorney for the district. “For all the years past, the board has had a premium on transparency and did not distinguish within its policy what it would disclose and what it would withhold.”

Charter schools took advantage of these policies statewide, said Waxler, and adjusted their own to prohibit AISD and other public school districts from receiving the same information.

Board President Gina Hinojosa said she wanted this policy changed “yesterday” and asked administration to do it as quickly as possible.

Waxler said the Conroe Independent School District had a good policy in place, on which AISD is basing its new one.

“I think, working with the senior legal team, that we are just days from recommending the Conroe policy,” he said.

District 7 Board Member Robert Schneider said he was not against the change, but asked Waxler to confirm that the policies were not in conflict with state or federal laws.

Charter schools are a contributing factor in AISD’s declining student enrollment, said At-Large Board Member Kendall Pace.

“When we started this year talking about the budget, it became very apparent that changes in our student enrollment are the biggest thing changing our bottom line,” Pace said. “The only way out of that is to grow our enrollment.”

AISD’s student enrollment has declined in the past two years. Last year’s dip was mainly at the elementary school level, with AISD losing about $7,000 to $8,000 per student, Pace said.

According to district data, at the end of the 2012-2013 school year, 1,450 out of 6,160 elementary- and middle school students had enrolled in a Texas charter school. At the end of the 2014 school year, 1,680 of its total 6,683 students had enrolled.

There are about 43 charter schools within the district and about 18 east of Interstate 35, according to txcharterschools.org.

Suggesting that AISD take a serious look at how other school districts have grown their enrollment, Pace said increasing program flexibility and gaining a better understanding of which portions of the AISD were growing and declining could help staff more effectively manage facilities.

“One of the charter operators told me point blank that he sees there will be two school districts: one on the east of I-35 that will be charter-run, and then AISD,” Pace said.

Schneider noted that, like anything, there are good charter schools as well as bad ones, but sending your child to a bad one was almost like “child abuse.”

“Unless we do something rapidly, and I mean in the next year or so, we are just going to continue to see charters eat our lunch,” he said.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Hinojosa.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

AISD: Austin's largest school district, AISD is the Austin Independent School District.

AISD Board of Trustees: This is the governing board of the Austin Independent School District. The board is comprised of two at-large members and seven district representatives.

charter schools: a publicly funded independent school

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