A group of community activists Wednesday morning will call on Austin district leaders to redraw school boundaries to end long-standing segregation or allow eastern Austin to form its own school district.
The demands are among a list of changes the coalition — which includes leaders of the NAACP, League of United Latin American Citizens and teacher labor group Education Austin and a sitting school board trustee — says are necessary to improve the quality of education for low-income students of color, particularly those living in eastern Austin.
The activists, who have worked on their goals for months, will announce their “declaration of principles and actions” at a news conference Wednesday morning while delivering their demands to district leaders.
Among the 15 items on their list of demands:
• Overhaul school boundaries and the open transfer policy to address segregation as well as overcrowded and underenrolled campuses.
• Obtain an independent cost assessment on splitting the district into two, separating eastern Austin.
• Hire an equity officer, who would examine all district decisions on policy and distributions of money and resources.
• Provide subsidized housing or housing stipends to teachers, and pay higher salaries to teachers who work in schools with high enrollment of low-income students.
• Halt school closures until the district’s efforts to boost enrollment at those campuses have been exhausted.
School board members already have directed administrators to investigate the proposal to divide the district, including conducting a cost-benefits analysis on the idea. District officials are working on a legal and financial assessment and plan to have detailed information back to the board soon, said Nicole Conley Johnson, district chief of business and operations.
The district also has worked on paying stipends to teachers in difficult-to-fill positions, and it has proposed affordable housing for district families and employees. In recent property sales, including the Baker Center, a former school in Hyde Park sold to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, and parcels sold to the city, the school district required that 25 percent of any residential development be designated for affordable housing units, with priority given to district employees and families with children who attend district schools.
Jim Harrington, founder of the Texas Civil Rights Project and one of the coalition organizers, said the group expects swift action by the district, otherwise the members’ response will be “significant and substantial, not just standing outside holding a little sign.” Such actions could include school walkouts or “shutting down” the operations of a campus or central office, he said.
“We’re putting them on notice,” Harrington said. “We’re taking this very seriously. We’re not going to sit around listening to them yap about it but do nothing.”
At a school board meeting in June, Harrington and City Council candidate Reedy Spigner, told board members the district lacks a vision for and neglects schools in eastern Austin.
Trustee Ted Gordon, a member of the coalition, said he plans to leverage his position as a trustee to push forward the group’s agenda, specifically to improve the academic achievement of its minority students.
“I don’t think academic achievement for kids of color has been the top priority of the district ever,” Gordon said. “If we don’t begin to address these issues and make them a priority, they may never be addressed.”