Could AISD Shutter 12 Schools?

District discloses ideas for $55 million in budget cuts

AISD officials address reporters following a report that the district is considering closing or consolidating 12 schools. (l-r: Chief Officer for School Leadership Michelle Cavazos, Chief of Business & Operations Nicole Conley Johnson, Superintendent Paul Cruz, and Chief Human Capital Officer Fernando Medina) (Photo by Austin Sanders)

Austin Independent School District officials are considering closing 12 campuses, among other actions, to reduce the district's $29 million budget deficit, according to a document obtained by the Chronicle. The draft report says that each closed campus could save the district about $1 million, but it does not list which schools could be closed. The document does indicate that two campuses could be closed next year, seven in the 2020-21 school year, and three more in 2021-22.

A total of 91 potential budget reductions are listed in the document, which was not widely shared with the public or with members of the district's own Budget Stabilization Task Force, which has been working to finalize its own report on the topic. Of the items, which total about $55.1 million in potential savings annually, more than half would primarily impact AISD's central administration rather than its individual campuses and students, but the most controversial options would definitely be felt among the broader community.

In addition to school closures, these include cuts to the district's fine arts and bilingual academic programs – which are popular with parents and students – to save about $10.7 million. Another idea is to impose a sliding-scale fee for enrollment in the district's four magnet schools ($1.2 million in savings) to offset associated transportation costs.

Though the list represented new information to most of the community, it was discussed during a board work session Monday night, during which trustees expressed concerns. District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias asked Superintendent Paul Cruz when the board would need to vote on school consolidations or closures, which by prior board policy could happen as late as June; Cruz instead suggested March as a likely timeline for any such action.

AISD Board Vice President Yasmin Wagner said that she did not "understand the reason" for waiting to identify which schools might be closed. "I feel like we're in a position where we understand very clearly what the demographic landscape looks like for our schools," she said. "Why would we wait another year, when we could potentially realize those savings this year, and at the same time move our students into a more effective and productive academic environment?"

On Wednesday afternoon, in a quickly arranged press conference, Cruz told reporters that AISD administrators are still assessing which campuses are most prone to closure or consolidation. The district would like to have more time to understand just how much its budget deficit has grown, as well as whether the upcoming 86th Texas Legislature will offer any progress on school funding solutions that could ameliorate AISD's fiscal woes. Currently, there is no timeline, said Cruz. "The document you see today will change based on [new data]," such as an updated demographic report of the district's student population, due in January. "But at the end of the day, the budget will be approved by the board in June. Up to that point we will be having conversations and assessing new information."

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Austin ISD, AISD, school closures, Budget Stabilization Task Force, Jayme Mathias, Yasmin Wagner, Paul Cruz

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