AUSTIN, Texas — On Monday night the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees voted on the criteria, or guiding principles that will help them decide which schools will be consolidated or closed.
The board didn't come to a final vote until just after midnight, passing the motion passing 8-0 with one member abstaining.
That approved criteria includes:
- Ensuring equal access to academic programs for all students
- Moving students into more modern learning spaces
- Cutting costs not directly related to teaching
- Maximizing facility use, even if that means a building is not used as a school any longer, but perhaps for community benefit
As board leaders moved toward a final vote, trustees representing East Austin argued that these amendments are only worth passing if equity is valued and at the forefront.
"If District 1, District 2 families have to experience closure, consolidation, boundary change, so should southwest Austin and so should far west. They need to experience that too. It shouldn't be students and families in District 1 having the hardships of being moved or being bussed," said LaTisha Anderson, who represents District 1. "To signalize District 1 or District 2 to protect southwest Austin is a slap in the face to the people that we represent. All means all. It doesn't mean District 1, District 2, protect Far West. All means all."
During the meeting, Superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz said there are plans in the works to hire an equity officer by June, with that person potentially starting work in August.
Parents and students won't find out which schools are on the list for closures until August.
On Friday in a Q&A with reporters, district officials outlined their goals for conversations regarding closures and consolidations which included ensuring equal access to programs, creating 21st Century learning environments and keeping the assigned school concept – which is where students go to school based on where they live, but options are allowed for special programs.
Austin ISD also wants to keep costs down for things not directly related to teaching students and they also want to make the most of the facilities they have, even if they're no longer used as schools.
At the Q&A, district leaders said that the changes need to happen, but that maintaining transparency and that the best interest of students and parents are their main priorities.
"If we don't change and accept these changes are coming we're gonna perpetuate the same inequitable system we have currently, which is that individuals from outside of our community are going to be saying, 'where are the good schools? They should all be,'" said Geronimo Rodriguez, president of the AISD Board of Trustees. "That's why you see us being very intentional with guiding principles. I think you also see examples from the administration of thinking from not a mindset of scarcity but a mindset of abundance, what is the opportunity here to reinvent our school district?"
Leaders said there is a lot of effort behind making the right choices for the schools.
"We're gonna deal with it by talking to our constituencies and talking to our staff members to make sure we're making the right decisions for our students and our families," said AISD superintendent Paul Cruz.
A final decision on what ultimately stays open or not is expected in October.
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