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Austin ISD board members push back on short timeline to close schools

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 by Claire McInerny, KUT

The Austin Independent School District’s board of trustees is balking at the administration’s plan to announce school closures by summer.

AISD has lost more than 6,000 students in the past six years, and enrollment is projected to continue its decline. As a result, the district will receive less money from the state. At the board’s work session Monday, the administration presented its road map for reducing the number of schools to match the dwindling student population.

Superintendent Paul Cruz said it would be fiscally irresponsible to keep schools open as enrollment declines. Instead, he said, money should go toward renovating buildings and increasing academic programs.

“The opportunity here is around creating these 21st-century learning spaces for all of our students, having as many students as we can in fully modernized, high-tech facilities,” he said. “It’s not about closing; it’s not about consolidating. Could that be an effect of what we’re trying to do? Yes.”

Board Member Jayme Mathias said if the board and the district are going to go out in the community and support this plan, they need to be more frank with the public.

“What I’m hearing, at least in my district, are persons who are telling me, call it what it is: If schools are going to be closed, tell us schools are going to be closed,” he said. “If there are closures that are going to be a part of this process, how do we communicate that?”

Under the administration’s timeline, the board would announce criteria for closing schools by April, present options in May and take possible action by June.

“It just seems very limited to how people can engage with the district on something I feel pretty confident everybody is going to be very passionate about,” Board Member Kristin Ashy said.

Board members also brought up the issue of equity. Most of the under-enrolled schools are concentrated in East Austin, but community members have told the board they don’t want to see closures happen in just one part of the city.

Board Member Arati Singh said she wants the public to have enough time to understand the plan and give feedback. She worries that families in East Austin won’t feel completely supported by the district’s efforts.

“Just saying, ‘Hey, you’re gonna get this amazing thing. We may have to close down your school but you’re going to get something amazing in return,’ that’s not going to be enough, because people have made promises before,” she said.

Cruz asked the board to vote on the plan at its regular meeting in two weeks, but that seems unlikely to happen. Many board members expressed concerns about voting on a plan they received only Friday and haven’t been able to present to constituents.

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Montinique Monroe for KUT.

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