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Austin ISD: The IDEA Debate in Full

Four hours to spare? Monday's board meeting for your viewing pleasure
Richard Whittaker, 3:30pm, Thu. Dec. 6, 2012
No-one expected last Monday's Austin ISD Board of Trustees work session to be a full-on fireworks display. But when they started talking about IDEA Allan, the fuse was lit. It will really go off on Dec. 17, when the board votes on either amending or terminating the existing contract. Yeah, don't you regret staying home now?
Fortunately, AISD Public Relations and Multicultural Outreach has put the whole thing online at aisdtv.blogspot.com. The discussion of IDEA Allan begins at the 2 hrs 14 mins mark, but the big firecrackers go off 40 minutes before the end, at the 3 hrs 55 mins mark. The final ten minutes may be the most divided the board has been since the original 2010 IDEA vote, and the consensus is that the newer members were actually better behaved than some of the veterans.

We covered the discussion in-depth in this week's issue, but here are the highlights.

– The big change is the proposal by Trustee Rev. Jayme Mathias (District 2), backed by President Vince Torres, to effectively put a pin in the IDEA contract for the 2013-14 school year. This would still allow the expansion from K-2 and Grade 6 to K-3 and Grades 6-7 but would keep IDEA at Allan, rather than expanding into Eastside Memorial High School. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has been instructed to draft a recommendation that will come back for board approval at the regular meeting on Dec. 17.

– Trustees Cheryl Bradley (District 1) and Lori Moya (District 6) seemed furious that the issue was even coming back. Both are doubling down on the idea that the district must take into account the needs of the families on the campus.

– IDEA Austin regional board member Tina Fernandez echoed this, calling renegotiation rash and "not in the spirit of community engagement that some of you have talked about."

– Trustees Robert Schneider (District 7) and Tamala Barksdale (At-Large Place 8) opposed the deal originally and are no happier about it now. However, they have extra allies now, in the shape of the incoming members (especially Mathias, District 3 Trustee Ann Teich, and At-Large Place 9 Trustee Gina Hinojosa.)

– Their big counter to Bradley and Moya's point is that the neighborhood that it was supposed to help has said no, with more than 80% of IDEA Allan students coming from outside of the Eastside Memorial Vertical Team. As Barksdale put it, "That's voting with your feet."

– A vote to cancel the contract is not off the table: If IDEA doesn't like the amendments, or if the trustees decide they don't like Carstarphen's proposal, then it could still get unilaterally dumped. Would IDEA walk away if they didn't like the new deal? In a statement to us, their Austin area director Larkin Tackett wrote, " IDEA Public Schools remains committed to the partnership with AISD and to serving low-income students and families in Austin. We believe that one of the best ways to eliminate the achievement gap in Austin is by working together – a traditional public school district joining forces with a public charter school – to ensure that all students receive a great education."

Looks like the Dec. 17 vote will be, at least, a slobberknocker.

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