School Boundaries: Please All, Please None
Another map emerges in building enrollment for new middle school
The argument about whose children will go to Austin Independent School District's new Southwest middle school has become heated and bitter. But as a final decision looms closer, it seems that the fears of parents of Mills Elementary students – that their kids will get split up when they leave fifth grade – are coming true.
On Oct.7 the AISD citizens' Facility Use and Boundary Task Force drew up its first proposed attendance zone for the new school (See "Proposed Southwest School Boundaries Spark Concerns," Nov. 14), containing the controversial proposal to send about 10% of Mills graduates to Small Middle School and the rest to the new school. At its Nov. 18 meeting, the task force presented a new plan that splits Mills even more dramatically: 57% of its students will go to the new school, with 43% going to Small, shoring up its numbers.
Mills families argue that any division endangers their sense of community. But according to Frank Simonetti, task force geographic member for Mills, "The issue of Small being low on numbers hurts the Mills argument." Accepting this, the task force took a new tack: If the Mills community couldn't stay together, at least its subdivisions could remain whole. Under the current plan, only the Villages at Western Oaks faces a major internal split. Simonetti expects this proposal will be the one that goes to AISD's board of trustees for final approval. "There probably can be some minor tweaking," he said, "but I think that it's going to be how you backfill Bailey [Middle School]."
The district has announced two more public discussions (Bailey Middle School at 6:30pm on Dec. 2 and Small Middle School at 6:30pm on Dec. 4). As part of the consultation process, explained Joe Silva, AISD's assistant director of planning services, "one of the things that we'll be putting out is the rationale of the task force, because when you look at the map, there are some viable questions about why some areas near the new school aren't in the attendance zone." The district's prime concern, he noted, remains relieving middle school overcrowding while still keeping every school's enrollment numbers viable. However the task force manages that, Silva said, "There is no way to get to a proposal that everyone is going to be happy with."
Simonetti knows the decision will upset some people, but, he added: "It's probably tougher on the parents. In a couple of years, the kids will have forgotten all about it."