- Melissa B. Taboada American-Statesman Staff
Austin district administrators have started plans to consolidate two East Austin schools into a single campus.
Under the plan, the district will build a new school and either Norman or Sims elementaries would close and consolidate into the other that would be rebuilt. A planning team whose charge is to develop a plan to consolidate the schools has until Jan. 16 to determine which school will close, according to a district timeline. The two schools would open next August as a consolidated campus while the new school is being built.
The consolidation comes under the district’s timeline for projects within the recently approved $1.1 billion bond package.
Bond documents previously referred to the consolidation as a $25 million “LBJ Vertical Team Modernization Project,” but did not indicate it was for a new school, though other district documents that were not made public but were obtained by the American-Statesman revealed specific closures were under consideration. Now district leaders are discussing the campus closure and consolidation as a “unification project.”
In a recent bond project update, Superintendent Paul Cruz showed the new East Austin school that would replace the two campuses would open in August 2020. He did not mention the school closure, but Trustee Ted Gordon, who represents the area that includes Norman and Sims reminded administrators that the district ensured school communities that it would given them time and work with them to help boost enrollment before considering any school closures.
“One of my arguments was voting for the bond did not necessarily mean specific things, particularly school consolidations and schools closing,” Gordon said. “We may end up doing that, but there is a process that needs to be involved before that happens.”
But district administrators is creating a project planning team whose charge is to develop a plan to consolidate the schools. Administrators this week began meeting with Norman and Sims staff and plan more meetings next week to discuss which campus would be modernized and which would fold into the other.
The district said in a statement that the “continuing trend of declining enrollment in some areas of Austin ISD has created challenges that must be addressed with clear, intentional solutions, including community input to provide modernized learning spaces our students deserve.
East Austin community members in opposition of closures learned of the meetings and plan to rally at the Dec. 18 board meeting.
Monica Sanchez, who helped start a political action committee that opposed the recently approved $1.1 billion bond package, warned that closures would result from the bond. On Facebook Thursday night, she wrote, “Consolidation = closure = unification project and your yes to the bond vote bought it hook, line and sinker.”