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AISD board adopts Facility Master Plan update

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Against the wishes of some trustees to postpone the item, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees worked into the early hours of Tuesday morning to adopt the Facility Master Plan update in a special called meeting.

The master plan implemented in 2014 set in motion a 25-year trajectory for the city’s public education infrastructure. As part of the plan’s mandate, it prescribes regular biannual updates to fine-tune that course, the update adopted this week being the first. Around 3 in the morning, discussion finally ended and the plan passed 6-3, with trustees Edmund Gordon, Paul Saldaña and Jayme Mathias dissenting.

The architects behind the update’s drafting consist of the volunteer-run Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, members of AISD’s administration and third-party consultants Brailsford & Dunlavey and AECOM.

The adoption of the update is not a bond planning document and does not initiate any actions. Rather, by approving the update, the board has accepted a timeline, set of strategies and evaluation criteria for moving in that direction.

Nevertheless, parents and alums spoke during the public hearing Monday night as if their schools’ futures were on the chopping block. The update’s recommendations for splitting the Liberal Arts and Science Academy from the LBJ High School campus, the target utilization plans for schools like Joslin Elementary and the redesign of L.C. Anderson High among others, elicited polarizing testimony from the public.

After the hearing was closed, Superintendent Paul Cruz reiterated that the master plan attempts to forecast the next quarter-century for an increasingly complex school system, currently seating over 83,000 students in 130 facilities. “This is Austin; we think big,” he said. “And one size does not fit all.”

Cruz said that the other challenges facing the city, like affordability and gentrification, necessarily intertwine with AISD’s own struggles, and therefore any solutions must incorporate the bigger picture. He also defended the target utilization plan strategy, saying that the district needed a policy for getting students back in seats now. “Bottom line, we need to increase our enrollment,” he said.

Trustee Cindy Anderson moved to approve the update with its appendixes, seconded by Trustee Ann Teich.

A total of 23 amendments were proposed to the update, with only four passing. Some trustees, like Mathias and Saldaña, asked for a postponement to allow more time for discussion around the amendments. Other trustees – including Teich and Yasmin Wagner – said that the time for discussion was over.

“We as a board need to honor the input that’s been given to us,” Wagner said, responding to claims that the committee had not engaged all communities when drafting the update.

As a former AISD employee who had witnessed inaction from previous boards, Teich said that the plethora of amendments obstructed a time-sensitive operation. “We are getting bogged down yet again,” she said.

Gordon passed two amendments to move the new Mueller middle school construction and L.C. Anderson High renovation projects to the first phase of the update’s implementation, as well as a memorial recognizing Old Anderson’s historical significance as an African-American institution and community landmark.

Saldaña also passed two amendments. The first added language prioritizing marketing support to target utilization plan schools in their efforts to increase enrollment, and the second preempting school consolidations or closures before considering Texas Education Agency recognition as a last resort.

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