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Crowd demands answers from AISD trustee at east side rally

Friday, August 4, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Austin Independent School District Trustee Jayme Mathias struggled to find common ground with parents, teacher assistants and other community members at the Save East Austin Schools rally Wednesday night. The event was organized by Bertha Delgado and Monica Sanchez, who asked attendees to sign up for a political action committee that would lobby Austinites to vote “no” this November for a school bond that they feel neglects the needs of their community’s schools.

Organizers informed the crowd gathered in front of the Metz Recreation Center on Canterbury Street that Sanchez, Brooke, Metz and Norman elementary schools as well as the Sadler Means Young Women’s Academy were all up for closure if the $1.05 billion bond proposition passed at the end of the year.

According to the Facility Master Plan update adopted in April, no schools are being scheduled for consolidation as of now, but the fear of east side families is that if these schools cannot bring up their low enrollment numbers, closures may be around the corner.

Delgado said that the only option, then, was to vote against the bond. “We need to fight,” she said. “We are angry, and we are upset. We need to come together as a community and as a city, because we are being displaced from East Austin.”

When Mathias took to the microphone to answer questions, he cautioned against the approach proposed by the organizers. “If we vote against this bond, schools will close,” he said.

“Are you telling us that regardless if we vote or don’t vote, you’re going to close schools no matter what, so it doesn’t matter?” asked mother Maria Munoz, who had spoken to the crowd earlier in the evening about how she had pulled her son out of a charter school to enroll him at Eastside Memorial High School for the additional extracurricular programs.

Mathias started to respond, calling for a search for a win-win solution, but Munoz cut him off. “Can you just answer the question? Yes or no please?”

“I will vote yes to keep a school open, but if I’m the only vote to keep that school open, then that school will close,” Mathias said. “It’s a tough sell, I need the help of everyone here this evening to help with that sell.”

Although the focus of the meeting was the school closures, deeper problems within the school district emerged as speakers passed off the microphone. Larry Amaro, president of the Johnston/Eastside Memorial High Schools Ex-Students Association, said that the issues in the district today were inherited from the failure to truly integrate the school system in the 1970s.

Sandy Castro, a parent of a special needs student, said that she has had to move her child through several East Austin schools over the years, as resources for special needs programs would drop or teachers were let go. “Moving around so many times here on the east side, (my son) felt like he wasn’t wanted by any of them,” she said. “If the schools are closed, emotionally it will affect the children. That’s why I was like I need to come to this meeting, because I don’t want younger kids to have to go through what my son went through.”

Despite the criticisms presented of the bond, some attendees, like longtime East Austin resident Sue Gabriel, felt that voting would not protect the schools and that a more radical solution was necessary. “This whole system stinks,” she told the Austin Monitor.

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