Board weighs fa­cil­i­ties plan, ap­proves land pur­chases

Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Melissa B. Taboada mtaboada@states­man.com

A fa­cil­i­ties com­mit­tee charged with cre­at­ing a com­pre­hen­sive plan to mod­ern­ize the Austin district’s fa­cil­i­ties has iden­ti­fied five un­der­en­rolled schools that could be closed if they stay be­low 75 per­cent of ca­pac­ity.

Af­ter weeks of hear­ing feed­back and ques­tions from par­ents, the num­ber of pos­si­ble con­sol­i­da­tions has fallen from six ele­men­tary schools to the cur­rent five — and district of­fi­cials say even those cam­puses could stay open if en­roll­ment can be raised above that thresh­old. Some had raised con­cerns that once a school had that tag, stu­dents would trans­fer out and staff would be dif­fi­cult to re­tain.

“It’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand that con­sol­i­da­tions are not off the ta­ble,” Ch­erylAnn Camp­bell, the fa­cil­i­ties com­mit­tee tri-chair, told the school board Mon­day night. She said pro­vid­ing those en­roll­ment tar­gets would help give “school com­mu­ni­ties a clearer path to un­der­stand the de­ci­sion mak­ing and the fac­tors that can em­power them to make changes in their school sit­u­a­tion be­fore con­sol­i­da­tions be­come a likely pos­si­bil­ity.”

The re­vised fa­cil­i­ties mas­ter plan names five schools — Brooke, Daw­son, Joslin, Nor­man and Sanchez el­e­men­taries — that could pos­si­bly be closed if un­der­en­roll­ment per­sists, and are sub­ject to so-called “tar­get uti­liza­tion” plans. Com­mit­tee mem­bers — who have been meet­ing for a year and a half as they cre­ated the pro­posal — said more schools will be added to the list in the fall.

The up­dated plan came Mon­day night dur­ing a nearly four-hour dis­cus­sion that stretched into the early hours of Tuesday morn­ing.

Much of the dis­cus­sion was about clo­sures, but there are hun­dreds of other rec­om­men­da­tions in the plan, a 25-year roadmap that de­tails $4.6 bil­lion in rec­om­mended school projects that are likely to be pre­sented to vot­ers over the next two decades.

Nearly all 30 speak­ers who ad­dressed the school board dur­ing public com­ments weighed in on the re­vised fa­cil­i­ties plan. Sev­eral said they re­main con­cerned that their schools would even­tu­ally be closed. Oth­ers voiced sup­port for an­other rec­om­men­da­tion in the plan: mov­ing the na­tion­ally ranked Lib­eral Arts and Sci­ence Academy, or LASA High School, to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion, to make it more ac­ces­si­ble to oth­ers in the district and al­low it to grow.

“The tar­get uti­liza­tion plan mod­i­fi­ca­tion is mostly a step in right di­rec­tion,” said Julie Barschow, a Joslin Ele­men­tary par­ent. “How­ever, with­out a clear def­i­ni­tion of this plan’s pa­ram­e­ters and mostly im­por­tantly, a sin­cere promise from the district to pro­vide sup­port and re­sources to help in­crease en­roll­ment, this is sim­ply just a stay of ex­e­cu­tion and noth­ing else.”

Trustees Paul Sal­daña, Jayme Mathias and Ted Gor­don all raised eq­uity is­sues, in­clud­ing Sal­daña point­ing out that the stu­dent pop­u­la­tions of the five cam­puses fac­ing clo­sure are largely low-income, and His­panic and black.

Trustees are ex­pected to vote on, and per­haps make changes to, the fa­cil­i­ties mas­ter plan next week af­ter a public hear­ing on the is­sue.

The first projects on fa­cil­ity mas­ter plan that will likely be tack­led:

■ Adding three schools to re­lieve over­crowd­ing.

■ Tear­ing down and re­build­ing T.A. Brown Ele­men­tary.

■ Mak­ing com­pre­hen­sive ren­o­va­tions to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Lead­ers and at the Rosedale School, where the district serves its stu­dents with se­vere spe­cial needs.

■ Re­lo­cat­ing LASA to a cen­tral lo­ca­tion.

“I don’t want us to come away with the feel­ing this is not a good plan, that not a lot of thought and care and sen­si­tiv­ity has been put into this plan,” said Trustee Ann Te­ich. “At the end of the day, there are some things we are go­ing to have to do ... cre­at­ing a 21st cen­tury learn­ing en­vi­ron­ments for our stu­dents and teach­ing en­vi­ron­ments for our staff. I hope we can come to­gether.”

The school board Tuesday morn­ing also ap­proved the pur­chase of three land parcels for a fu­ture high school in south­east Austin and to ex­pand Bowie High School.

Trustees ap­proved spend­ing $16.75 mil­lion for the land. The money for the land was ap­proved by Austin vot­ers in 2008 when they sup­ported a $32 mil­lion bond propo­si­tion to pur­chase land for a new high school in South Austin.

The board also ap­proved be­com­ing a District of In­no­va­tion, a des­ig­na­tion that gives Texas school dis­tricts more au­ton­omy. Among the changes, the Austin school district will start the 2017-18 school year early on Aug. 21.

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