Monday, February 8, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik

Austin ISD Board of Trustees postpones vote on real estate consulting services

Four Austin ISD school closures in one year has left parents worried about the district’s renewed interest in seeking real estate consulting services for its properties. Fearing more closures, concerned parents called in to ask for postponement of the vote on agenda item 10.1, which if approved by the board of trustees, would authorize AISD to seek real estate advice from a consulting company.

The trustees agreed to postpone the decision. to their Feb. 25 meeting.

“We have to make sure that the community is with us every step of the way. It is a $400,000 contract. People are scared that this is the first step in closing schools,” Board Secretary Arati Singh said in a phone interview with the Austin Monitor. “It is very destructive to a community to close a school.”

In 2019, the AISD Board of Trustees voted to close Pease, Metz, Sims and Brooke elementary schools at the end of 2021, citing declining enrollment and deteriorating facilities. Singh was one of three board members who voted against school closures.

“There is more information we as trustees needed to understand,” Singh said.

If the contract is approved, AISD will authorize Alvarez & Marsal Real Estate Advisory Services to provide consulting services for the district. The publicly available contract lists the services that include, among other things, assessment of market value and “recommendations as to which (if any) buildings should be renovated, replaced, etc., as needed.”

AISD has 130 campuses plus a dozen other buildings in the city. Evaluating its facilities will help the school district decide what needs to be updated or repurposed. The contract also addresses what AISD eventually plans to do with the four school properties that were closed.

Since Pease Elementary is owned by the state, it can only be used for educational purposes, but Metz, Sims and Brooke could be repurposed or sold. Repurposing a campus includes options like “affordable housing, workforce housing, creative spaces, vocational and shared work spaces, mixed-use community centers, child care facilities, and educational gardens,” according to the AISD website.

A survey conducted last September gathered suggestions for ways to use the closed properties, said Noelita Lugo, newly elected trustee at-large, position 8.

“If we were to make one of these affordable housing, we could partner with other organizations (to form) a village with academic support – little ways to make communities good for students,” Singh said. “It would be nice to have our teachers live in the same communities.”

“We own those assets, and I think those types of creative ideas can only be explored with partners that have that background, which is why consulting services are necessary, Operations Officer Matias Segura said, referring to the closed schools. “But we can work to define the parameters.”

There was concern among board members about who would make the final decisions. “Any agreements whatsoever, regarding any real estate, absolutely must come to the board,” Segura said.

“There is a moratorium on the sale of school properties for two years,” AISD Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said.

This story has been changed since publication to clarify the fact that the decision was postponed, but not to a specific date and to correct the fact that Singh told the Monitor that “could partner with other organizations” not “would partner with other organizations.” Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

AISD Board of Trustees: This is the governing board of the Austin Independent School District. The board is comprised of two at-large members and seven district representatives.

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