AISD Told to Pay More, Make Cuts Hurt Less

School change process hopes to better support all students

AISD Told to Pay More, Make Cuts Hurt Less

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees on Monday approved its guiding principles for transforming the school district through closing, consolidating, and repurposing campuses over the next several years – what AISD is blandly calling its "school change" process. The document identifies five primary concepts, each with several sub-points, intended to:

ensure equitable access to educational programs "that engage and inspire"; put more students in "21st-century learning environments";

maintain AISD's existing balance of neighborhood and choice schools with increased socioeconomic diversity;

reduce the district's financial burden to maintain aging facilities; and "optimize facility use" with partnerships and co-locations "to align assets with our community needs."

After prolonged debate of several amendments, trustees approved one that encourages district staff to limit the number of low-income students impacted by school closures – a specific percentage threshold would be identified after more analysis. Otherwise, the board split 5-4 repeatedly to reject proposed amendments, with the three trustees who collectively represent the majority of AISD's low-income students (LaTisha Anderson, Jayme Mathias, and Ann Teich) unsuccessful in their efforts to make the document's consideration of those impacts more explicit. The board majority proved reluctant to amend the guiding principles – which were developed in draft form over five months – from the dais; the final document was adopted 8-0-1 with Arati Singh abstaining.*

The first guiding principle calls for AISD, as part of this district rightsizing process, to "increase the comprehensive menu of rich [academic] options" that "mitigate programmatic deserts," and to "consider all regions for a district-wide, holistic approach." Though not stated explicitly, this language reflects the concerns of trustees and stakeholders who fear the burden of school change will fall disproportionately on Eastside campuses with shrinking enrollments and large concentrations of low-income students, while over-enrolled campuses west of I-35 are preserved.

District leaders have repeatedly asserted that enrollment is just one factor to be analyzed when making decisions on closures and consolidations. They point to AISD's district-wide enrollment declines (more than 6,000 since 2012, with another 7,200 projected through 2028) as their motivation for embarking on the school change process, which could also lead to rethinking how attendance zone boundaries are drawn, but insist their ultimate goal is to improve access to academic programming for all students in every part of town.

Although the guiding principles were the only discussion item posted for action on Monday's agenda, much of the energy in the boardroom came from the many supporters of Education Austin's push for a 10% pay raise for all district employees. More than a hundred employees and supporters rallied before the meeting, and virtually every public speaker at the meeting itself lobbied the board to approve 10% – not the district's tentative offer of a 1% raise for teachers only – in the upcoming budget, which aims to close a $30 million deficit. Many shared stories of working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or of thoughts given to fleeing to other districts where pay may be higher and the cost of living definitely is lower.

Others spoke of leaving the profession all together. Traci Dunlap, a kindergarten teacher at Maplewood Elementary, said all the raises she's received have been offset by Austin's rising health care and housing costs. "I'm pulling money out of my savings every month to get by," Dunlap said, before drawing attention to colleagues in non-teaching roles. "How can our [teacher assistants], custodians, bus drivers, and others be expected to support their families on what is not even a living wage by Austin standards?"

The board is set to approve AISD's budget for the 2019-20 school year – including any compensation increases – at its June board meeting.

Editor's note: This story has been amended since publication. It originally said Cindy Anderson abstained from the final vote. in fact, it was Trustee Arati Singh who abstained.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin Independent School District
Amid COVID-19 Spread, AISD Benchmarks Its Future
Amid COVID-19 Spread, AISD Benchmarks Its Future
District changes dozens of its performance measures

Clara Ence Morse, Nov. 20, 2020

AISD Students Can Learn From Home. Teachers Have Fewer Options.
AISD Students Can Learn From Home. Teachers Have Fewer Options.
Big mess on campus

Clara Ence Morse, Oct. 9, 2020

More by Austin Sanders
D.A.-Elect José Garza Taps Reform Advocates for His Team
D.A.-Elect José Garza Taps Reform Advocates for His Team
It's a new day in court for Austin's top law enforcement office

Nov. 18, 2020

Council Recap: Taking It (For) the Streets
Council Recap: Taking It (For) the Streets
New impact fee plan makes its first trip to the dais

Nov. 13, 2020


Austin Independent School District, AISD, "School Change" Process, LaTisha Anderson, Jayme Mathias, Ann Teich, Arati Singh

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle