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AISD hires marketing firm to tackle enrollment woes

Wednesday, December 16, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

Land purchases and resignation announcements aside, the Austin Independent School District board of trustees took additional steps to address the district’s enrollment issues Monday. In a 7-0 vote with trustees Kendall Pace and Edmund Gordon abstaining, the board decided to spend $350,000 on marketing consultant Sanders\Wingo Advertising Inc, who will hopefully help stem an expected 4,000-student enrollment dip over the next 10 years.

Board members have said for months that declining enrollment is due to a number of factors, including Austin’s increased cost of living, aggressive advertisement from nearby charter schools and a decrease in overall birth rates since 2008.

“It does amaze me that we would need such a campaign as a district, especially when I see our performance as publicly run public schools versus privately run public schools,” District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias said Monday, referencing the 220 distinctions AISD schools received from the Texas Education Agency in 2015.

According to Board President Gina Hinojosa, AISD had “no choice” but to move forward with this marketing plan given its current state of affairs. AISD’s estimated 83,500-student population experienced about a 2,000-student loss in the past two years. According to staff, many of its students moved to nearby suburbs or enrolled in area charter schools.

A portion of the district’s funding, as is the case with all public school districts in Texas, is contingent upon the number of students attending its schools. Declining enrollment coupled with hefty Robin Hood tariffs from the state have left AISD in dire financial straits. If the decline continues, decreases in enrollment could cost AISD as much as $35.8 million over the next decade.

But during public comment, Austin resident Karen Evertson accused the district of ignoring the real cause of enrollment decline, which she said was AISD’s no-good curriculum.

Many trustees came to the defense of the district’s academic programming, including Vice President Amber Elenz, who said other districts have approached AISD about purchasing some of its programming.

But District 3 Trustee Ann Teich pointed out another possible cause that trustees had yet to acknowledge. She said that the “elephant in the room” in her district was a perception that because schools have high populations of students that are poor and learning English, “they are not going to have enough rigorous instruction.” She said many parents in her district use transfers to send their children to other schools where the curriculum is perceived to be more rigorous.

District 6 Trustee Paul Saldaña clarified that the $350,000 spent was actually composed of a $52,500 consulting fee and that the remaining $297,500 was set aside to buy commercial time and print advertisements, as well as other other media purchases.

Reyne Telles, AISD’s executive director of communications, explained AISD’s multifaceted, multifirm marketing to the board. The campaign, which began rolling out last summer, includes 30 school-specific media campaigns as well as one overarching district campaign. Telles said the marketing team performs extensive polling and research before any advertisement kickoff. Telles likened the research to the kind performed for election campaigns. He noted that the campaign will include a broad range of media, from TV ads to ads taken out on specific Pandora stations.

As part of the effort to curtail enrollment declines, trustees also voted to freeze transfers into 23 schools for the 2016-2017 school year. This move may help alleviate AISD’s problem of overcrowding on some campuses while nearby schools are under-enrolled.

Schools frozen to transfers include: Akins, Anderson and Bowie high schools; Gorzycki, Lamar and Murchison middle schools;
and Baldwin, Baranoff, Barrington, Becker, Blazier, Brentwood, Casis, Clayton, Cowan, Davis, Doss, Gullett, Hill, Kiker, Menchaca, Oak Hill and Webb Primary elementary schools.

Photo by John made available through a Creative Commons license

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