Austin school board weighs facilities plan, approves land purchases


Austin trustees will vote on the revised facility master plan on April 3.

The Austin school board approved nearly $17 million in land purchases for a new high school, Bowie expansion.

District of Innovation designation will allow AISD various freedoms, including starting school year earlier.

A facilities committee charged with creating a comprehensive plan to modernize the Austin district’s facilities has identified five underenrolled schools which 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.

• 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.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Autopsy report: Roy Halladay had drugs in system when plane crashed
Autopsy report: Roy Halladay had drugs in system when plane crashed

An autopsy on former major-leaguer Roy Halladay showed that he had amphetamines, morphine and a sleep aid in his system when he died in a plane crash off the west coast of Florida, The Tampa Bay Times reported Friday. Halladay, 40, died Nov. 7 from blunt force trauma with drowning as a contributing factor, according to the Pinellas-Pasco Medical...
Massachusetts couple accidentally donates savings hidden in a soup can
Massachusetts couple accidentally donates savings hidden in a soup can

Amanda Mattuchio said her parents use a fake can of Campbell's Tomato Soup to hide their cash. Unfortunately, they stored it alongside real soup cans in their kitchen. “The bottom would unscrew and it had $2,500 in it and it was a combination of $100 and $50 bills,” she said. “The neighbor upstairs asked them if they had any canned...
US government shuts down; Dems, GOP blame each other
US government shuts down; Dems, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunction. Last-minute negotiations crumbled as Senate Democrats blocked a four-week stopgap...
Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state
Peace be with you, but no touching: Flu season alters mass in this state

Widespread influenza across Maine has prompted the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland to alter some traditions to keep parishioners healthy. The diocese announced Thursday that it's suspending the sharing of consecrated wine during communion and holding hands during the Lord's Prayer. The diocese is also discouraging parishioners from shaking hands...
Texas joins legal battle against tree firm blamed in 2011 Bastrop fire
Texas joins legal battle against tree firm blamed in 2011 Bastrop fire

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department on Friday joined hundreds of other people in suing a tree-trimming company they blame for the 2011 fire that ravaged Bastrop State Park and Bastrop County. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., the lawsuit argues, diverted crews away from tree-trimming along the power lines it was responsible...
More Stories