Commentary: Austin ISD bond plan would create segregation

Save East Austin Schools supports public funding for public schools. The problem is, the Austin ISD bond plan would discriminate against Austin’s low-income Hispanic and African-American communities. The large majority —75 percent of students — are minorities who typically attend Title 1, low-income schools. However, only 35 percent of bond monies would go to Title I schools.

The bond proposal, if passed, would: allow a mostly affluent white LASA to displace Hispanic students from Eastside Memorial High School at Johnston campus; and, in South Austin, favor predominantly white affluent Bowie High School with $91 million in new construction versus $15 million, $13 million and $9 million, respectively, for mostly Hispanic Crockett, Akins and Travis High Schools.

Austin ISD must fully value and support all of Austin’s children equitably. Until then, we ask Austin voters to vote against the bond.

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We want Austin ISD to keep East Austin schools open. Trustees have discussed closing a number of schools, including Brooke Elementary, Metz Elementary and Sanchez Elementary schools in the barrio along east Town Lake; and in Northeast Austin, Norman Elementary and Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, predominantly Hispanic and African-American schools. Why is it that the district is only thinking about closing and consolidating schools east of Interstate 35?

Trustees say they want to close the schools because of low enrollments, though there are 23 underenrolled schools across the district. All 23 deserve to be valued fully.

A Facilities Bond Planning Advisory Committee assessed schools for funding needs. Predominantly affluent or middle-class white schools with low ratings are considered “worst first” and would receive full modernization for their vintage schools. For example, Casis Elementary would receive $35 million for renovation. Compare this to treatment of the East Austin schools. They have better facilities assessments, yet are labeled as “crumbling.” Brooke, Metz, Sanchez and Norman elementaries would receive, on average, only $300,000 each in the bond initiative — and they would lose their campuses.

All the schools targeted for closure are meeting academic requirements. Norman is excelling.

The fact is, the East Austin schools are located on now-desirable land on east Town Lake. A long list of developers is funding promotion of the bond and would profit if it were to pass.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Pro-AISD bond group raises $186,000 in campaign funds.

Let’s look at the bad idea of removing LASA from LBJ, a historically African-American high school. The district is talking about taking the predominantly white and exclusive LASA out of District 1, while proposing to kick out the mostly low-income Latino kids from Eastside Memorial at Johnston Campus to accommodate the wealthy, white LASA leadership. Such a move would relegate the Eastside Memorial students to a lot less land. They would no longer have their campus of 57 years, nor their outdoor recreation fields. The proposed move would put them in uncertainty for the next five years.

This move would put the district in contravention of the 1970s-era MALDEF and LULAC lawsuit that ordered desegregation of Austin schools. Austin voters are being asked to vote on something that’s illegal: having three segregated schools — Reagan, LBJ and Eastside Memorial — in District 1. There would no longer be a high school for District 2, since LASA is a “members-only” campus.

What are the solutions?

The district must leave Eastside Memorial High School at its Johnston Campus with full renovation. Austin ISD must also take the difficult but necessary steps of boundary adjustments to alleviate overcrowding and increase enrollments.

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Instead of closing East Austin schools, the district must also boost enrollments by: supporting existing and desired programs at the schools; promoting public visibility; limiting transfers out; and integrating the schools. The children will benefit from caring and thoughtful integration. This has been achieved at Blackshear Elementary School. The same successes can be repeated at the East Austin schools that are currently targeted for closure.

The district must adjust the project list and value all of Austin’s children. In the meantime, we ask you to vote against the bond package as written.

Vasquez is a member of the Save East Austin Schools political action committee.

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