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What’s next in the process to close Austin ISD schools?

Monday, October 14, 2019 by Claire McInerny, KUT

The Austin Independent School District finished its third week of community meetings to get feedback on its plan to close and consolidate 12 schools. Now, district staff will revise the proposal before the school board votes in late November.

Here’s a wrap-up of what was discussed last week.

Appetite for a November 2020 Bond?

The school board held a retreat with district staff Monday night to discuss the school changes proposal. One of the big conversations was about whether the board would support a November 2020 bond to help pay for modernized school buildings.

Many parents have said they won’t support another school bond because they feel tricked after approving the 2017 bond. The district had said money from that bond would go to every school for building improvements; closures were not a part of that plan.

Board support for another bond was mixed. Some members worried it might be asking too much of taxpayers because the city plans to ask for a transportation bond during that election.

Nicole Conley, the chief business officer for AISD, told board members if voters don’t support a bond it won’t stop closures. It might just prevent the district from building the modernized buildings or force AISD to dip into funds for programs and teacher pay. She said regardless of the closure plan, the district would be asking voters for a bond in the next few years anyway because that’s how it has been maintaining buildings.

A Pushback to 6-12 Grade Schools

The plan includes proposals to expand Northeast High School and Covington Middle School into grade 6-12 campuses.

Some Covington students currently move on to Crockett High after middle school, so if the plan goes through that would mean fewer students there. Covington would also be made into a fine arts academy.

In addition to concerns about the wide age gap at an expanded Covington, students, teachers and parents from Crockett said they were worried about losing the fine arts program there.

AISD administration staffers said they came up with the idea of making Covington a fine arts academy after South Austin parents told them they wanted schools that mirrored programs at Lamar Middle and McCallum High in North Austin. The Crockett community said it already has a fine arts program, so why wouldn’t the district invest in making it more robust rather than creating a high school from scratch?

“We’re definitely being dismissed in a way, and I definitely think it has to do with our bad reputation, which was 20 years ago,” Crockett student Rena Gonzalez said. “It also has to do with race and racism. Crockett is a predominately Hispanic and black community, and I think that people automatically dismiss schools like that and programs like that.”

She said when the district proposed creating a brand-new 6-12 school with a fine arts program rather than investing in an existing one, some in her community felt AISD was giving in to the stereotypes about their school.

What’s Next in This Process?

District staff will discuss all the feedback they have received and release a second version of the plan, likely at the beginning of November.

The board is still expected to vote at its regular meeting on Nov. 18, though board members at the last community meeting said it wouldn’t be an up or down vote. Trustees can pass amendments if they want to change details in the proposal, and they are giving their own feedback now as the district creates version 2.


Click on the threads below to see live tweets of parent concerns and the district’s response during each meeting:

Pecan Springs Elementary

Gus Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy

Palm Elementary

Crockett High

Bedichek Middle

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT.

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