It was an ugly Monday evening at the Austin ISD school board.
After sitting through hours of speakers who were unanimously and often vehemently opposed to the school closures in the plan before them, and being asked by local elected officials from every level of government to put off a decision, trustees instead voted as they clearly had decided to do in advance – to move ahead with the four school closures in question, even over the impassioned objection of their own Chief Equity Officer Dr. Stephanie Hawley.
It appeared that the administration was not intending for Dr. Hawley to appear at all, even though equity is supposed to be the cornerstone of the school changes plan, but at Trustee Arati Singh's insistence, Superintendent Paul Cruz called Hawley so Singh could ask her about "the equity of the closures."
After thanking the board and the district for their commitment to anti-racism, Hawley started in on her answer: "The map that you have of the closures is a map of what 21st century racism looks like. ... Our process for selecting schools was flawed. It was inequitable. I can't find any documentation of how those selections were made." She talked for quite a while more (see "AISD Board Votes to Close Four Austin Elementary Schools" for more, and the full text below) and concluded: "My hope – and you asked me; these are my impressions – my hope is that we will demonstrate the humility to take a step back. Because we know that this is forever work that you're voting on tonight. East Austin will never be the same. It'll never be the same."
At that, Hawley was led away, amid sustained applause, with no follow-up questions allowed.
Hawley was not heard from again, nor did her impassioned testimony make any impact whatsoever: The final vote to go ahead with the closures was 6-3, with each of the trustees who voted for it reading a prepared statement before the final vote, as if to prove that their minds had been made up going in and were not about to be changed. And to add further insult to injury, trustees voted 5-4 not to commit to keeping the properties or reserving them for nonprofit uses, but specifically to keep open the option for commercial sale in two years' time.
As more than one speaker reminded the board Monday evening, the last time trustees took an action like this – in the 2013 IDEA debacle – in opposition to everything they were hearing from the community, they were voted out of office at the next election, the then-superintendent departed shortly thereafter, and the district suffered a rare bond election defeat in its next ask of the voters. This time around, trustees Jayme Mathias, Amber Elenz, and Cindy Anderson will be up for reelection next fall and may or may not suffer for their Monday votes. The bigger worry is that the next school bond election, which will be needed to pull off a lot of the initiatives in the School Changes plan, is now tainted by its association with these deeply unpopular and undemocratic school closures. Trustees may have gained the support of the Chamber of Commerce – which has twisted arms for years to win some school closure scalps to hang on their wall – but they may have lost everyone else.
City Council's first work session on the new Land Development Code draft this past Monday, Nov. 18, yielded few surprises – though Mayor Steve Adler's spitballing of "triplexes everywhere" certainly signaled that Council might still be open to major amendments to the plan, at a point in the process when most of the recent discussion has been about relatively minor tweaks. See "Austin City Council Shows Suprising Interest in Upzoning" for more about that.
Meanwhile, we're in kind of a public holding pattern through the Thanksgiving week. Staff is hustling to complete its supplemental report on Nov. 25, which will include fixes, and text and map revisions to respond to some of the early feedback from Council and elsewhere. Then Council dives back in with work sessions Dec. 3-4 and a public hearing on Pearl Harbor Day before a likely first-reading vote on Monday, Dec. 9. In the meantime, council members agreed to air their proposed changes on the Council message board, where Adler and CM Alison Alter started the discussion with a post laying out several specific proposals "that could be included in the supplemental report, or as council policy direction at 1st reading."
And the protest movement continues: Also on Monday, the Austin law firm of Gray & Becker sent a memo to Council reiterating its position that property owners being rezoned have protest rights. City legal has thus far disagreed, but if protests are indeed allowed, they would have to be filed, paradoxically, before City Council's first vote; for info, see www.fileyourprotest.com, where over 2,000 residents have already filed protests with an online form.
60 Years of Birding at Hornsby Bend: Travis Audubon and Austin Water celebrate 60 years of birding on the ponds and marshlands of the city water treatment center that sits right across and the Colorado River from Bergstrom Airport – Sat., Nov. 23, 7am-7pm, at the Hornsby Bend Center for Environmental Research, 2210 FM 973, with field trips throughout the day, and dinner and an evening program starting at 4pm. It's all free except the $8 dinner; schedule and more info at bit.ly/HornsbyCelebration.
Project Connect: MetroRapid Corridor Open Houses Capitol Metro's series winds up this week with three more open-house meetings to discuss the potential expansion of MetroRapid service from two routes to seven:
• Thu., Nov. 21, 5-7:30pm, at Austin Central Library
• Mon., Nov. 25, 5-7:30pm at Circle C Community Ctr., 7817 La Crosse Ave.
• Tue., Nov. 26, 5-7:30pm at Little Walnut Creek Library, 835 W. Rundberg.
You can also see a Virtual Open House at www.capmetro.org/get-involved.
Dr. Hawley’s full remarks to the AISD Board of Trustees at their Nov. 18 meeting:
“The map that you have of the closures is a map of what 21st Century racism looks like. We did not deliberately do that. But we didn’t disrupt history. Our process for selecting schools was flawed. It was inequitable. I can’t find any documentation of how those selections were made; and I talked to all our staff. I can’t find any documentation. And I looked, and in order to produce the report that our staff is reviewing. And I want to say, our staff are amazing; our staff members are amazing folks. But nobody could give me the paper. So, I’m an old teacher, and I need to see your work. I didn’t see the work. I didn’t see it.
“So I don’t know how those schools were selected. People have told me different things at different times. … And I’ve asked, based on things that I’m seeing in the district, that we bring in national consultants to do an equity audit. … So as you say about closures and consolidations, right now we have a perfect map of what well-meaning racism looks like. And I really believe that we can do better, and I really believe that more intensive training, more contact with the communities that we’re disrupting … So I said all this to say that we had a very flawed, not transparent process. It was not transparent; it was opaque. And I don’t think anybody got up out of bed and deliberately, viciously did this, but the damage and the impact is the same. And we’ve seen the past in the district, the children have spoken to us, the parents have spoken to us, the researchers have spoken to us, the future has spoken to us … so the past, the present, and the future have spoken to us and we’re still producing the same plan. So I don’t know. I don’t know.
“Here’s the thing I do believe: I believe that all of our leaders are smart enough to spend more time with our community, and really co-create. Because we all admit, we didn’t really co-create with you. We really did not co-create with you. And we have the ability to do that. And I think we have the ability to bring humanity to this process. … My hope – and you asked me; these are my impressions – my hope is that we will demonstrate the humility to take a step back. Because we know that this is forever work that you’re voting on tonight. East Austin will never be the same. It’ll never be the same.”
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