Waiting for the Axe: The Task Force
The Austin ISD Facility Master Plan Task Force began its work before the state and district budget collapse, but the group is finalizing what is supposed to be a 10-year plan in the fires of the shortfall. With the first draft due Feb. 14 and the final recommendations scheduled to be submitted to the board of trustees on March 7, the group's final proposals will be received with equal measures of anticipation and fear.
Task force co-chair Richard Frazier said the members are taking "a Google Docs approach" to writing the final report "in the sense that we're putting lots of pieces together, getting a cumulative look at it, and then we'll edit it as a group." The body has broken into working groups developing major subsections of the report, including transportation, technology, program changes, facilities, and bond proposals. There are more than 100 options up for discussion, and Frazier noted that, due to the limited time left to conclude the report, "it won't be complete." Some recommendations for programmatic changes will be placeholders for future discussion, while others will form a wish list. For example, there's been talk of opening two career hubs for vocational training. "There's a clamor for that in the public," Frazier said, "but there's no funding."
Tension will remain highest concerning the list of now 13 schools – one middle school and 12 elementaries – designated for potential closure or consolidation. With the final draft less than a month away, it's unclear if all, some, or none of those schools will make the list, or whether there will be such a list. Sanchez Elementary PTA President Amelia Duron said that, with that cloud of unknowing over their heads, the stress is starting to show on families – particularly difficult with TAKS testing scheduled to start in March. She said, "How do you expect your children to perform well in tests when they don't know if their school's going to be there?"
There are also major questions about how the task force will sign off on the final draft. The group has already shrunk from 72 members to 63 due to staff, students, and parents leaving the district. For the remaining members, presence at meetings is not mandatory. Frazier has said they've remained in constant contact via e-mail – but due to concerns about the process and about what should be in the final draft, some members have already raised the possibility of a minority report.