Austin ISD fails to find partner to help save Mendez Middle School

Time is running out for Mendez Middle School after the Austin school district didn’t receive any response to its request for proposals to help turn around the chronically failing campus.

District administrators last month sought to partner with an outside entity, such as a nonprofit or university, as a way to save Mendez from state closure. The school, located in southeast Austin, has not met academic standards for four consecutive years and could be closed by the state if it fails again this year. The state also could appoint a board of managers to govern the school district if the campus again doesn’t meet standards.

But a new state law, Senate Bill 1882, would give the school a two-year reprieve from state sanctions and more money per student if the district partners with a charter school operator or another outside entity.

Parents and neighbors of the school were vocal about their opposition to partnering with a charter school operator. The request for proposal, which was due by Tuesday, called for a multi-year partnership that included improving student performance, engaging parents and staff members and overseeing an independent governance board for the campus. District leaders hoped to work with an entity that would partner with the district to improve the school’s performance, instead of take over the campus entirely. But the request produced no interest.

District administrators on Tuesday night broke the news to the community members who volunteered to be on the selection committee for the partner.

As the state deadline looms, district leaders must decide whether to quickly put together a new request for proposal or to directly reach out potential partners.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Robert Kibbie, school PTA president. “We’re going to reach out to organizations to see why they didn’t put in a bid for it. We’re hoping to find someone to turn in a bid.”

Kibbie said a couple of nonprofit organizations he had been in touch with said they feared it would be too much work and said the rules being written for SB 1882 were not clear enough for them to determine whether they want to wade into such a partnership.

Kibbie said he’s hoping none of it will be necessary and that the school will improve enough this year under a new principal Chris Jones to meet state accountability standards.

Parent Isabel López, whose son is a seventh grader at the school, said she hopes they find an organization “willing to take on this challenge.”

“We need to work together to make the best of this unfortunate situation,” López said. “THere is a lot of low morale among the staff and the kids with the uncertainty. And we’re pressuring them to perform. Closing the school…that’s the worst fear.”

The working group will meet again late next week to discuss next steps.

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

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