AISD superintendent issues apology, rethinks school closure timelines

Dec 07, 2017
Nick Wagner
A student holds her mother’s hand after school at Brooke Elementary on Wednesday. Edmund Oropez, the Austin school district’s chief officer for teaching and learning, contradicted a timeline sent to school board members last week by saying Brooke Elementary, and up to five other schools, will not be closed. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

After days of public criticism prompted by the Austin district’s plans to close and consolidate a handful of East Austin schools, Superintendent Paul Cruz on Thursday issued an apology, promising to change timelines and involve parents and community members in the process.

“I realize the excitement and eagerness to get to work, coupled with aggressive project timelines, have created misunderstandings about the future of some of our schools and the process for parent and community engagement,” Cruz said in the statement. “I accept responsibility, and I apologize for the confusion.”

About 150 parents Wednesday evening gathered at Brooke Elementary to voice support for their school and opposition to its students being sent to three other campuses, which the district last Friday had said was in “effort to mitigate underenrollment at those campuses.”

Timelines sent to school board members last week showed Brooke would close next year and a planning team charged with “unifying” Norman and Sims elementaries into a single campus had until Jan. 16 to decide which of those schools would be closed while a new campus is built. Another timeline outlined plans to consolidate Metz, Sanchez and Zavala elementaries and said a planning team had until summer to determine its plan, but it was unclear as to when the consolidation would occur.

But by Tuesday night, administrators appeared to be backing away from such plans, telling community members schools would not close next year.

While either Norman or Sims elementary will have to close while it undergoes renovations, planning teams could decide to keep both the staffs and student bodies distinct while operating under the same roof, district officials said.

The plans to consolidate schools into modernized or completely rebuilt campuses would be among projects within the recently approved $1.1 billion bond package, the largest in Central Texas history.

District officials have not ruled out the possibility of future school closures. A comprehensive facilities master plan adopted last spring outlines that schools with at least three years of underenrollment can be shuttered.

“We have a historic and unprecedented opportunity to create modernized 21st-century learning spaces for all our students,” Cruz said in the statement. “The Facility Master Plan on which the bond was built provides a long-range, comprehensive plan to modernize all schools. The projects outlined in the bond and the FMP are the first step toward creating schools that our teachers, students, and parents can be proud to attend.”

Cruz said he hopes to get the focus back on the vision of creating modernized learning spaces for Austin’s students.