The Austin Chronicle

AISD’s FABulous Facility Plan

The Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee has a few recommendations to consider

By Richard Whittaker, March 31, 2017, News

School closures may be off the docket for Austin ISD, with the latest round of recommendations from the Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Commit­tee instead proposing a new initiative to help underenrolled schools stay open. Gone is the first draft's proposal of consolidating six campuses into two; instead, at the Monday night AISD board meeting, the 18-member volunteer body recommended "target utilization plans" to boost enrollment at five campuses (Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Norman, and Sanchez).

But that just scraped the surface of what the FABPAC laid out. AISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley estimated that the district faces $3 billion in deferred maintenance. In total, 39% of AISD campuses are currently in poor or very poor condition, with 22% deemed not suitable for their educational purpose. The FABPAC tri-chairs warned the board that it will take a decade to bring those schools up to acceptable levels. Moreover, while there are multiple underenrolled campuses in East Austin, other regions – especially south and north – are facing overcrowding, with 17% above capacity. To that end, the PAC recommends $4.6 billion in capital investments over the next 25 years, including five new campuses: three elementaries, and two middle schools, including one at Mueller. Later in the meeting the board approved the purchase of three parcels of land in southeast and southwest Austin to relieve high school overcrowding.

Additionally, the PAC suggested completely replacing the structures at the Rosedale School for special needs students, the Sadler Means Young Women's Leadership Academy, and T.A. Brown Elementary, which had to be closed last November because it was structurally unsound. More controversial was the suggestion to shift the Liberal Arts and Science Acad­emy from its portion of LBJ High to its own central campus. Advocates say that move is overdue, as LASA is turning away many qualified students. Opponents believe its exit will damage LBJ and advance inequity.

Board President Kendall Pace reiterated that this is "a strategic, not an operational plan" intended to provide every student with an environment optimal for 21st century education – something the district cannot currently claim. The next step for the board will be a vote to adopt some or all of the FABPAC recommendations, at which point the committee will move forward with developing a bond proposal for November.

After the meeting, District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias tweeted that, with a forecast of 10,500 empty seats in existing buildings by 2025, "New schools will be a hard sell for voters." Pace fired back in an emoji-enhanced message that the district can convince voters through programmatic innovations, and that staff "can't teach in ratty buildings 4ever."

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