- By Melissa B. Taboada American-Statesman Staff
The nationally ranked Liberal Arts and Science Academy will move out of LBJ High School to become a stand-alone school on the Johnston campus in East Austin under a bond proposal expected to go before voters in November.
Eastside Memorial High School, currently housed at the former Johnston High campus, would move to the Alternative Learning Center, formerly the original L.C. Anderson High School.
Many LASA families have petitioned for a new home for the school in a more central location to allow it to expand to up to 2,000 students, nearly double its current size. It also was among the recommendations made by a facilities advisory committee, which worked for much of the last year on a 25-year master plan aimed at modernizing the district and all of its campuses.
But building a new, stand-alone LASA, with a price tag of $125 million, was excluded from the list of essential projects for a November bond package to keep it under $1 billion.
Under proposals trustees are considering:
• A completely revamped old Anderson campus would be home to a small high school of 850 Eastside Memorial students.
• Old Anderson High becomes a newly built school, with designated space for a conference center for community and educational use, such as after-school centers.
• LASA moves to a minimally renovated Eastside Memorial, becoming a stand-alone high school with the ability to expand to up to 2,000 students.
• The district would create a new medical magnet school at LBJ that complements a health sciences workforce training program that launches this fall.
The LASA and Eastside Memorial moves were among various projects trustees hammered out during a four-hour discussion Wednesday night in formulating the bond package.
Making segregation worse?
During the discussion Wednesday night, trustees jockeyed for specific projects, coming up with individual proposals ranging between $946.1 million and $1.02 billion. They haven’t yet voted on the bond projects or the amount of bond funding to request from voters in November. The board is slated to vote to call for the bond on Monday.
The changes among the three schools would require more than $26 million in annual operating costs, an additional $10 million over current costs, a district analysis shows.
Several parents in recent days emailed the board to support the LASA relocation to Eastside, and Eastside’s shift to old Anderson. Representatives from the old Anderson alumni in a letter to the board Wednesday also agreed to the changes, with the stipulations that the building be given historical designation and have dedicated space for community and educational use, among other things.
“It is absolutely the best proposal I have heard so far, and it reflects and responds to all the hard work and support that was put into the community and (facilities committee) meetings,” LASA parent Gina Vance told the board in an email Wednesday.
LASA parent Rachel Drga gave trustees similar feedback: “This option is a win-win-win for all three schools involved. Even though it is unlikely my daughter (a rising LASA junior) will see the benefits of this move, it is important for the long-term health of both LASA and LBJ, which is why I strongly support this plan.”
Eastside — which begins its early college program in the fall, offering students a chance to earn an associate degree in high school — will be located across the street from an Austin Community College campus, giving students better access to classes there.
“This idea of building a new high school for our students at Eastside Memorial is an idea that is sparking excitement and interest in East Austin,” said Trustee Jayme Mathias, who represents the east and southeast area of the district that includes Eastside. “When I talk to people about building a new high school in East Austin, they say to do this. Let’s build a school these kids deserve.”
But some Johnston alumni are opposing the change, saying they are “appalled that the school board made a hasty decision,” without getting proper community input. The members will host a press conference on Saturday at the school to protest the plans.
Trustee Ted Gordon, who represents the northeast and east area of the district that includes LBJ and LASA, also opposed the moves. Seeing that the majority of trustees supported the moves, he ultimately relented in hopes of gaining support to fund the career launch program and medical high school program at LBJ. While some trustees supported putting money toward LBJ, it was unclear whether they would agree to the $22 million need to launch both. Gordon also pushed for funding for a middle school in the Mueller area, another project which didn’t make Monday’s list of recommended bond projects.
“I’m pretty bitter about the whole thing,” said Gordon, who points out that the removal of LASA from LBJ will make his district’s segregation problem worse, and leave LBJ vulnerable, possibly to closure, in the future because it is underenrolled. “I feel like I betrayed the sentiment in the community, but I couldn’t just let LASA move and leave LBJ with nothing. It’s unfortunate that it played out in this way. I think it’s a missed opportunity for these communities to come together on a campus and do something positive. It’s tragic.”
During discussions of the facility master plan, multiple former students of LASA (or the previous science academy or language arts academy that formed it) also spoke out against moving the magnet, and at least one provided such feedback again to the board on Wednesday.
While the school district is composed of mostly low-income, ethnic minorities, the nationally recognized LASA, which has a student body of mostly white, middle-to-upper class students, has long been criticized for its lack of diversity. Some community members have said the division is a blemish on the campus.
In an attempt to diversify its student body, LASA this year adjusted its admission criteria. Preliminary data show the school this fall will have an increase in incoming Latino and black students, two groups that have been underrepresented since the magnet school’s inception.