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Bond doubles down on segregation, trustee says

Monday, June 26, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

At last week’s Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting, only one trustee voted against the adoption of the list of projects to be included in this year’s bond election: District 1 representative Edmund Gordon. In a sit-down interview with the Austin Monitor, Gordon elaborated on his opposition to the bond package.

What it all comes down to, he said, is a failure for the board to stand by its principle of desegregation, reflected mainly in the decision to relocate the Liberal Arts and Science Academy.

It was not until 1983 that AISD was declared by an order of the district court to be a “unitary school district.” In the decade preceding that decision, the court had found the school district to have discriminated against African-American and Mexican-American students by essentially running two separate school systems.

As a way of transforming into an integrated school system, a 1980 consent decree had provided for the reconfiguration of bus routes and redrawing of attendance zones as well as putting rigorous academic programs in east side schools. The Science Academy was instituted at LBJ High School in 1985 and the Liberal Arts Academy at the former Johnston High School in 1988. “It was done as a means of dissuading folks from sending their kids to other high schools, but also as a means of adding value to the area,” Gordon said.

The two academies eventually combined into a single magnet high school in 2007, located now in the top floor of the LBJ campus, and the demand for the top-tier education offered there has risen since then, resulting in the school now being at 109 percent capacity. According to AISD statistics, the current racial makeup of the school is 56 percent white, 17.5 percent Latino, and 1.6 percent African-American. LBJ, on the other hand, is 60 percent Latino, 36 percent African-American, and 1.8 percent white.

To accommodate the school’s rising student population and its long distance from those students in the southwest corner of the city, LASA’s Campus Advisory Council and others have advocated strongly for the Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee’s recommendation that the school be moved to a new location.

Although Gordon recognizes the needs of LASA, he does not see how its relocation aligns with the Facility Master Plan’s philosophy of addressing the “worst first.” “The (Facility Condition Assessment) score for LBJ is not that low,” he said, “and (LASA) is a school of choice; it doesn’t have an attendance zone, so it’s not overcrowded in the sense that other schools are where kids who have a right to attend can’t.”

The official measure for a school being overcrowded is 115 percent capacity.

Nevertheless, the final approved bond package includes a plan to relocate LASA to the Eastside Memorial High School campus in District 2 and to move that high school to the old Anderson High School campus in District 1 for a combined project cost of $84 million. The outcome of that shuffling, Gordon said, will be that all high schools in his district, LBJ, Eastside and Reagan, will be predominantly black, brown and economically disadvantaged. “As I’ve said before, I’m elated to welcome Eastside to District 1,” he said, “but these are segregated high schools.”

Gordon said that he knows the board is against segregation, and he applauds them for approving an integration pilot plan last year for his district, but he said that LASA’s move works against that plan. “The hypocrisy of it is that the bond plan that we voted on, which is the one big infusion of resources we have to get (the integration plan) done, is doubling down on the segregation of the area.”

One of the reasons the board has “bent over backwards” to make this move happen, Gordon speculates, is a fear that voters, particularly those from the southwest who would benefit the most from a new LASA location, will not pass a bond that does not include it.

Some have accused Gordon of implying that members of the board or community members were racist for supporting the restoration of the old Anderson campus only after it fit into LASA’s relocation plans, but he rejects those allegations. “I’m not calling anyone racist, but what I did say is that convergence theory postulates that typically when white people (as a racial group) take the side of people of color, it’s usually because something’s in it for them,” he said. “I’m not calling that racism, but that’s what’s going on here.”

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