AISD Parents, Teachers a Tough Sell

AISD board slated to vote on charter school plan Dec. 12

Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
Superintendent Meria Carstarphen (Photo by Richard Whittaker)

The Austin Independent School District's hard sell of handing over Eastside schools to nonprofit charter school operator IDEA Public Schools is getting a highly skeptical reception from the community. So far, the district's response seems to be simply to double down on the transfer.

The district has been touting three scenarios to allow IDEA to take over the entire Eastside Memorial Vertical Team, including elementaries and middle schools (see "Not Every­one Keen on Charter IDEA," Nov. 11). At the Nov. 21 AISD board meeting, trustees approved a new Facility Master Plan framework. The new timetable for annual facility recommendations means they could vote on the transfer as early as Dec. 12, but during the meeting's Citizens Communication segment, parents and stakeholders spoke out against the proposal in no uncertain terms, raising many still-unanswered questions as well as concerns about IDEA's track record. "Why is the rhetoric coming from the district saying that this is an opportunity for the community when we know it's yet another inequitable implementation of an educational ­program?" asked Caroline Sweet, AISD's teacher of the year and a Metz Ele­ment­ary fourth-grade bilingual teacher. There is little doubt that the administration is pushing the idea of IDEA hard. There's been a series of public meetings, which unfortunately have felt more like time-share sales sessions than informative community dialogues. On Nov. 19, parents received a robocall survey, effectively asking them not if, but how they wanted to hand Eastside over to IDEA. In a step unprecedented since the beginning of her tenure with AISD, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen invited select members of the press to specifically address the IDEA proposal. She told the Chronicle that state Education Com­mis­sioner Robert Scott's indulgence of Eastside planning is "not going to last forever, and it's probably not going to last into second semester." She said that if her proposals for Eastside "don't scratch the itch for the community, then someone's got to bring me a better way."

So far, the district's most concrete response to the community opposition has been to add a Scenario D – another variant on the IDEA takeover – to its talking points. That sits extremely poorly with Govalle parent Vincent Tovar and the Eastside Memorial parent community working group. Mem­bers who took part in a district-sponsored trip to an IDEA campus in South Texas brought back tales that made the charter group sound like an education factory rather than a school. In response, the working group started developing its own community-generated Scenario D – one that does not involve IDEA. Tovar accused the district of co-opting the Scenario D title and told the Chronicle, "We've been pushed to Scenario E." However, his group is not backing down and recently redubbed its effort Occupy Eastside. He said, "We want to postpone the December 12 meeting – not to January, but at least a year."

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IDEA Public School, Meria Carstarphen, Austin ISD, AISD

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