Austin ISD Delays Its Plans to Close Eight Schools

Four others remain on list as "conversations" continue

Eight of the school campuses initially identified for closure and consolidation under Austin ISD’s sweeping, multi-year School Changes process have had those plans stayed – for now.

But four other campuses remain set to close over the next two years under the 2.0 version of School Changes, released Friday, Nov. 1; Metz, Sims, Pease, and Brooke elementary schools. The first two will close as was expected even before the School Changes train got moving; modernization projects at each receiving campus (Sanchez and Norman, respectively) are underway now, using 2017 bond dollars at a cost of $25 million each.

The district’s decision to move forward with closing Pease is a major blow to the community there, which has rallied intense support behind an alternative plan to transform the Downtown site with a new structure alongside the historic building to accommodate more than 500 students. AISD says the constraints at the site are too great for such a project, given that the current building must be preserved and (under the terms of the state of Texas’ long-ago conveyance of the property to the district) used for education.

The planned closure of Pease means that not all of the campuses on the list are east of I-35. The all-transfer school has typically had more lower-income students and students of color than most Westside schools, though not reaching the same levels as the district as a whole or the other three campuses to be closed, all in gentrifying East Austin neighborhoods. For now, the plan is for Pease students simply to go to the schools they are zoned for; that could change if the district reaches an agreement with the Pease community on a single school to receive all its students.

Closure plans at Brooke are more tentative. Currently, the district intends to shutter the E. 4th Street campus next year and send its students to either Govalle or Linder, both also currently being modernized, depending on whether they live north or south of Lady Bird Lake. But despite not having the resources to advocate as loudly as parents at Maplewood or Ridgetop, the Brooke community has been passionate in its insistence that the school should remain open, and the district has not ruled out removing it from the list.

At Maplewood and Ridgetop, as well as at Joslin, Dawson, Pecan Springs, and Palm elementaries, and two middle schools, Bertha Sadler Means and Webb, AISD aims to “continue conversations with the communities” in hopes of finding a solution that is more agreeable to each. The district also nixed eight other proposed School Changes scenarios, including one to make Northeast Early College High School a 6-12 campus (an idea no one seemed to understand or want); a similar 6-12 transition at Covington Middle School; the addition of an e-sports program at some high schools; and the expansion of engineering and computer science programs in the Bowie High School vertical team.

The Board of Trustees is still set to approve some scenarios in November and December, including these four closures, implementation of a districtwide cultural proficiency program, and expanded school hours. No timeline has been set for a decision on the delayed-for-now closures; trustees will discuss the new plans at a work session tonight (Monday, Nov. 4), and the district will conduct community engagement sessions leading up to the board’s next voting meeting on Nov. 18. We’ll have reactions and more information online and in print later this week.

A note to readers: As we look forward to our fifth decade publishing this paper, and to a print redesign scheduled for late January, we thought we’d take this occasion to ask our readers some questions about how you use the print edition – what parts you find useful, and what parts we could improve. – Nick Barbaro, Publisher of The Austin Chronicle

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austin isd, school changes, pease elementary, sims elementary, metz elementary, brooke eklementary

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