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, to save Mendez from closure by the state. The school, located in southeast Austin, has not met academic standards for four consecutive years and could be closed if it fails again this year. The state also could appoint a board of managers to govern the entire 82,000-student 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. Responses to the request for proposals were due by Tuesday. It called for a multi-year partnership that included improving student performance, engaging parents and staff members and overseeing an independent governance board for the 700-student 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 proposals or to directly reach out potential partners. There is no rule that requires the district to put together a formal request for proposal.
“We want to ensure we have community voice in this, that we have teacher voice,” said Jacob Reach, special assistant tot the superintendent.
The district also could move to close the school on its own, something the Dallas school board opted for five campuses, but the deadline for such a decision is April 30.
Reach said one potential partner voiced concern that the state rules would obligate partners to provide transportation, food, and other services they could not offer.
“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 he’s hoping the school will improve enough this year under a new principal Chris Jones to meet state accountability standards.
“We need to work together to make the best of this unfortunate situation,” said parent Isabel López. “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.”