Public Notice: Ted Gordon Believes
Is it too late to fix the AISD bond package?
"I believe in AISD. And I believe in quality education. And I believe in equity. And I believe in diversity. And I'm on the school board because of those beliefs."
That's how AISD trustee Ted Gordon, the board's lone African-American member, began a long, impassioned plea to the AISD board Monday night, bemoaning the district's plan to move the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy off of the campus it shares with low-income students at LBJ High, and to drop a much-anticipated Mueller middle school from the proposed bond project list under consideration for a November vote (see "AISD's Big Balancing Act," June 23), and otherwise – in his eyes – snub his largely minority Northeast District 1. It was such an extraordinary speech that I'm going to give him the bulk of this column space to expound.
"We've got to make some tough decisions about allocation of resources, and in those tough decisions about allocation of resources, we each as trustees, and the officers of the administration, have to decide where their priorities lie, and what our priorities really are." Gordon went on, "When we get through moving Eastside to Old Anderson, we will have three high schools [Eastside, LBJ, and Reagan] in District 1, of which I'm the trustee, and … in each one of those high schools, we're well over 90 percent black and brown. In each one of those high schools, we're well over 80 percent and heading into 90 percent in terms of socioeconomically underprivileged. This board has stated that desegregation is one of its principles. I don't see it. Where is that represented in what we're about to do? It's not."
Gordon granted that if LASA had to move, the proposal to move Eastside High to Old Anderson, and then LASA to the Eastside campus, "is a better solution than any other I've seen. But let's not lose sight of the fact that we're still promoting a segregated high school situation in District 1, and in Austin, Texas.
"To me it's unacceptable," he concluded. "If reinventing the urban school system means abandoning the urban areas of the city, then we're in trouble. It can't mean that. It has to mean a way in which the east and west can come together to create a school district which is diverse, which is equitable, and which provides all our kids with a quality education – not some kids an elite quality education, and other kids no education – all our kids a quality education."
It's worth recalling that the AISD board had two minority members when this facility bond process began. One, Paul Saldaña, resigned days after the board passed the facility master plan upon which this bond is based. The other, Gordon, has wondered openly and repeatedly whether he can continue to serve, when he has so little success getting equity for his constituents.
There's still fat to be found elsewhere in the budget: Trustees could take $30 million off of the Ann Richards appropriation without even touching their new tennis courts, and another $13.3M if they just follow the original FABPAC recommendation. That's almost enough to fund the entire Mueller school right there, but it's hardly the only example of where the funding priorities – as difficult as these decisions are – have diverged from the "worst-er, first-er" path the administration claims to follow.
The AISD board has one more chance to make some tweaks, and salvage a bond package that will pass the smell test with voters. They clearly aren't there yet.
There's a community engagement meeting at Eastside tonight, Thu., June 22, 7-8:30pm, "to hear from parents, students, teachers/staff, alumni, and community members about facilities proposals that affect the future use of Eastside Memorial, LBJ HS, LASA, and the ALC/Old Anderson HS building."
Meanwhile, it appears City Council is ready to acknowledge the inevitable regarding CodeNEXT. They're poised to pass a resolution at today's final meeting before the July hiatus, asking for a much-needed extra draft of the text and map, to be sent through the commission process before the draft that will eventually make its way to Council.
Clearly, there will be policy differences on the Council regarding the code, and city planning strategies more generally (see "Council: Take a Deep Breath," June 23). But for the time being, there remain such basic questions about the structure and application of the code that it's hard to engage effectively on the policy level.
As if to demonstrate how far they are from being ready to go on this, Council raced through a work session on Wednesday, barely scratching the surface of the newly released plan for affordable housing and the density bonus program, and putting off two extremely dense and contentious topics until a new work session next Wed., June 28, 1-3pm:
• How Neighborhood Plans and Small Area Plans are to be incorporated into CodeNEXT;
• How CodeNEXT fulfills the aims of Imagine Austin and its Growth Concept Map.
That follows a session Mon., June 26, noon-3pm, covering parking (including the Residential Permit Parking program); infrastructure needs, flooding, and other planning; and environmental regulations.
And remember, July 7 is the deadline for comments on the first draft of the zoning map. To view and comment, visit codenext.engagingplans.org.
A (mostly) full transcript of AISD Trustee Ted Gordon's 12-minute opening remarks at the June 19 board meeting, about the proposed facility bond package
"I believe in AISD. And I believe in quality education. And I believe in equity. And I believe in diversity. And I'm on the school board because of those beliefs.
"But it's very difficult for me – as it is for the rest of the trustees, and I guess the administration – to be placed in the position that we've been placed in. We've got to make some tough decisions about allocations of resources, and those tough decisions about allocation of resources, we each as trustees, and the officers of the administration, have to decide where their priorities lie, and what our priorities really are.
"I've played Don Quixote here with the whole LASA situation, for the last month and a half, almost two months. And also, to a lesser degree, with the Northeast middle school situation – tilting at a windmill when it's been clear for a while that the game was lost. But I've been tilting at those windmills because there's something important that's at stake here.
"The administration's decision to move LASA before FABPAC got going was a decision that's put a whole series of things into play that I find objectionable, and have left me as an individual and as a trustee seeming to oppose things that I absolutely support, like, for example, a bond of over $950 million (we'll see what it ends up being); like, for example, magnet schools, and LASA in particular, which I think is a fine institution; like, for example, Eastside High School, which I think deserves everything it can possibly get; like, for example, my brothers and sisters from the Anderson community, who want desperately to have something reasonable done with a facility that they were forced to abandon a number of years ago.
"And how is it that I got placed in this situation? I got placed in this situation because the administration began a process which left open the option of moving a school of choice, LASA, off of a campus which is otherwise inhabited by my folks, black and brown, and relatively socioeconomically underprivileged, and to be able to hive off and go and have their own campus, where it is that they can hang out amongst their own kind – as people on the board have told me – with their own culture, distinct from the culture they're leaving behind. And in making that decision, have placed people like me in the situation of having to oppose what a good group of folks at LASA seem to think is best for that community; has placed me in a position where, through manipulations of other trustees, the Anderson community is … in favor of something I can't support (or may have to support). These are all very bitter.
"When we get through moving Eastside to Old Anderson, we will have three high schools in District 1, of which I'm the trustee – and I welcome Eastside to District 1 – but let's make no mistake about it, in each one of those high schools, we're well over 90 percent black and brown; in each one of those high schools, we're well over 80% and heading into 90 percent in terms of socioeconomically underprivileged. This board has stated that desegregation is one of its principles. I don't see it. Where is that represented in what we're about to do? It's not.
"We've got a Northeast middle school plan, which isn't just about the problem of we've got too much excess capacity in our middle schools; it's a plan which seeks to make our area a school that is diverse. Without this we run the risk of having, in Mueller, an elementary school, which is probably going to be a charter school, which is going to draw kids from all the surrounding elementary schools – making it, more than probably, socioeconomically undiverse, and more than probably, racially and ethnically undiverse, [and] at the same time increasing the segregation of the surrounding elementary schools. The middle school is the solution to that set of problems.
"We're talking about, well, why can't we just put more kids in Bertha Means? Bertha Means has an FAC score of 49 and part of the building is uninhabitable, as it stands. We're going to put kids in a failing school? We already have girls in that school, and there's a rank and really problematic differential between the status of that school and Garcia where we have the boys. Why do we have girls in a school that's got such a low FAC rating? Why didn't we, as Trustee Anderson asked, why didn't we take up the issue of Garcia and Means when we were talking about FABPAC? We didn't do it because the administration didn't want to do it, even though this trustee asked over and over and over again for that to happen. … Why didn't we do it? Because we as trustees and the administration didn't take it up. So there's not a plan for them.
"We currently have before us a plan for LASA – let's face the facts, folks – a plan for LASA which also has now become a plan for Eastside, which also has now become a plan for LBJ. Since I could not keep LASA from moving, and I could not get the administration, even though I tried from the very beginning of my time as a trustee, to step into the situation at LASA and LBJ, and create a solution amongst the adults there which could allow them to cohabit that place – even those two schools were able to cooperate enough to be able to produce a plan for expanding LASA, and to a certain extent, LBJ, on that campus – they've got blueprints for it; that's been ignored; we're not going to do it; I've lost that case – the solution that we have now is a better solution than any other I've seen. But let's not lose sight of the fact that we're still promoting a segregated high school situation in District 1, and in Austin, Texas.
"All right; having said that, the other problem with this solution is that we're still spending close to $110 million to get LASA its own campus. So, that spending $110 million means that we can't do some of the things that we've talked about on the board here already – Cowan, Blazier, the Northeast middle school – we don't have the money. Should we reduce Ann Richards? Will that gore somebody else's cow or whatever it is that you gore?
"The only solution to the problem that I see now, … now that we're in the process of promising Ann Richards their $70 million … is for us to go above a billion dollars, and increase the tax rate – if these things are all-important, if it's so important to have LASA have its own school that we're going to uproot two other high schools, then let's stand by our convictions, and let's go for a bond that does the things that we know are right, or that we say we think are right.
"Otherwise, I guarantee you, without a Northeast middle school, and a solution for Garcia and Means, we will lose District 1 and much of East Austin to the charter schools. They're licking their chops. And we will continue on with the process that I've talked about before from this dais of transferring our resources, from the east to the west. …
"To me it's unacceptable. If reinventing the urban school system means abandoning the urban areas of the city, then we're in trouble. It can't mean that. It has to mean a way in which the east and west can come together to create a school district which is diverse, which is equitable, and which provides all our kids with a quality education – not some kids an elite quality education, and other kids no education – all our kids a quality education."