AUSTIN SCHOOL BOND FORUM: Questions of segregation, inequity addressed


Highlights

School, community leaders debated equity in the district’s $1.1 billion bond.

Proponents say the bond is needed to help maintain, and even boost, the district’s enrollment.

Opponents say it will worsen segregation and disproportionately benefit students from the city’s west side.

School and community leaders Wednesday night debated whether the Austin school district’s $1.1 billion bond measure would benefit students equally across the district, and raised issues such as the bond’s tax impact, segregation in the schools and how to address underenrolled schools.

Trustee Ted Gordon said that while he has concerns with aspects of the bond, its failure would leave the school district in a dire financial situation.

He said that voting for the bond does not equate to voting for the closure of underenrolled schools, an argument some opponents have made. Campus closures and consolidations might be on the table regardless of whether the bond passes, he said.

“I’m not in favor of closing down any schools,” Gordon said. “I would rather have $25 million in the bond in case the decision is made to close the schools so that we can build something better on one of those sites.”

READ: Austin district is banking on bond to boost enrollment, turn around schools

Wednesday’s forum, hosted by the East Austin Coalition for Quality Education at Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University, came about two weeks before early voting will start on the bond. Election Day is Nov. 7. Proponents say the bond, which aims to construct new or rebuild schools and make hundreds of improvements, is needed to help maintain, and even boost, the district’s dwindling enrollment.

But a recently formed political action group, among other opponents, says it will worsen segregation and disproportionately benefit students from the city’s west side.

Peggy Vasquez, representing the anti-bond Save East Austin Schools PAC, recalled historical segregation in the district and said she is fighting against further segregation that would be caused by moving the Liberal Arts and Science Academy and Eastside Memorial High School. Under the bond proposal, Eastside Memorial would relocate from its current home on the former Johnston High School campus to the original Anderson High School, making room for the LASA to expand as a stand-alone campus in the Johnston location.

As for changing school boundaries to add more students to underenrolled campuses, both Gordon and former Trustee Paul Saldaña said it’s not even a consideration.

READ: Bond plan calls for LASA to move south, grow

“The political power, where it lies in Austin, Texas, is perfectly happy to leave school boundaries as they are,” Gordon said. “So even tinkering with the school boundaries is basically a no-no. It would take a monumental mobilization of political power, political and economic power, in this city to get those school boundaries drawn back to zero and rebuilt in an equitable way. Because Austin, despite the fact that it’s a progressive city, is not equitable. People have interests that they are bound to protect, and some of those interests have to do with where those school boundaries are constructed.”

Tam Hawkins, president and CEO of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce, said arguments could be made for redrawing boundaries or modernizing and building new schools, but “at the end of the day, it’s about the students.”

“If our students are not given the support that they need to be successful and eradicate some disparity outcomes for black and brown students, none of this will matter,” Hawkins said, noting that business community members supported passage of the bond but must continue to fight to ensure inequities aren’t passed on. “I don’t care what line we draw. For me it’s a moot point.”

Trustee Jayme Mathias said the LASA-Eastside Memorial shift offers another solution, giving the chronically underenrolled Eastside Memorial a brand new-facility, while providing LASA room to grow.

But Saldaña said he continues to have lingering concerns, including that the LASA and Eastside Memorial moves worsen segregation in Gordon’s area.

“I do not support initiatives that perpetuate inequities, racism, segregation and classism,” he said. “I’m really struggling with the bond package because there’s some inequities.”

POLITIFACT: Austin school bond claim is silent on increased costs to taxpayers

During the forum, the panelists also weighed in on the tax impact of the bond package. Among the selling points for the bond, Mathias said the district can cover the costs of the bond projects without raising the tax rate. Critics, however, have been quick to point out that taxes would continue to climb, as property values rise.

Hawkins said most people don’t mind paying the tax, but they mind not getting a good product for that tax.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal
Cedar Park holding public meetings about stormwater drainage proposal

Cedar Park is holding town hall meetings about a proposal to create a stormwater drainage and street repairs program. The proposal would reallocate one-fourth of the revenue from the Economic Development Sales tax to the program, a press release from the city said. If the money was reallocated, the program would receive about $1.57 million annually...
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment
Austin police officer fired 4 months after federal indictment

An Austin police officer was fired today, four months after a federal grand jury indicted him on a charge of making a false statement to a U.S. agency in the midst of his wife’s Social Security fraud case. Officer Roosevelt Granderson II was fired, not because of the charges, but because he did not attend two separate Internal Affairs...
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare
Police: Georgetown woman lied about income to get free healthcare

A Georgetown woman was accused of falsely claiming she had no income when she applied for health benefits, an arrest affidavit said. Zona Nelson, 65, was charged with theft by deception, a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Officials with the Williamson County and Cities Health District told the sheriff’s office they...
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears
Defendant called 911 after injuring boyfriend, jury hears

Attorneys representing both sides in a Travis County murder trial agree Stephen Sylvester died in July 2015 at the hands of his boyfriend after they fought, following a night of drinking in downtown Austin, in the apartment they shared. But prosecutors are calling Sylvester’s boyfriend, Bryan Canchola, a jealous murderer who flipped out...
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review
Travis DA clears officers in 3 shootings, without grand jury review

Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said Tuesday that she will not pursue possible charges against officers in three police shootings as part of an overhaul in how she handles such cases. Her decision to use “prosecutorial discretion” and end such investigations marks the first time in years that an Austin police officer&rsquo...
More Stories