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Austin ISD equity officer calls closure plan ‘racist’ before board votes to close four schools

Tuesday, November 19, 2019 by Claire McInerny, KUT

The Austin Independent School District’s Board of Trustees voted 6-3 on Monday to close Brooke, Metz, Sims and Pease elementary schools at the end of this school year.

Trustees Ann Teich, Arati Singh and LaTisha Anderson opposed the closures.

Parents and community members have pushed back for months on the proposal; that continued during public comment at Monday’s meeting.

But the most notable critique of the night came from Stephanie Hawley, the district’s own chief equity officer.

“The map that you have of the closures is a map of what 21st-century racism looks like,” Hawley said to applause from the crowd. “We did not deliberately do that, but we didn’t disrupt history. Our process for selecting schools was flawed, it was inequitable.”

Hawley started the job in August, after staff had spent months constructing a plan to close schools and overhaul district programming.

Singh proposed a motion to go forward with closing Metz and Sims, two east side schools with mostly low-income students, because the 2017 bond had already started the process of consolidating those schools. She asked to remove Brooke and Pease from the list and take more time to consider those schools.

Anderson, who represents Sims, told Singh removing the other two schools would send the wrong message to the community.

“The message that you are sending is that you do not care,” she said. “That it’s OK to move Sims to Norman but go ahead and pull Pease off of there.”

Still, many trustees said the closures needed to go forward so more money could be allocated for academic programs and teacher salaries, rather than for maintaining old buildings.

The approved plan has Metz closing and consolidating with Sanchez, and Sims closing and consolidating with Norman. Brooke students will either attend Govalle or Linder, depending on their address. Pease students and current staff will move to the same building as Zavala for another year while the district figures out what to do next.

Teich, who voted against the plan, said she didn’t think the closures and improved programming should be voted on together, but said she understood the grave financial situation the district is in. She challenged the community, which has been so vocal throughout this process, to also step up and help address the district’s ongoing enrollment problems.

“I’m going to challenge you, community, who has said you’re going to increase enrollment, you’re going to work to bring partners in, you’re going to work to hopefully advocate at the Legislature for them to fund us the way we need to be funded,” said. “If you don’t walk the talk, these changes will come up again.”

AISD says closing schools is necessary to help with the district’s financial situation. It is currently using its reserves to pay for day-to-day operations. The administration says closing schools and saving money on maintaining old buildings frees up more money for teachers and academic programming.

District staff said they will begin deciding in January whether to close eight schools on the initial closure list.

This story has been changed since publication to correct a typo and to clarify that Trustee Anderson does not represent the Metz district, Trustee Mathias does. This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Julia Reihs.

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