The group arrived at the Austin City Hall steps ahead of a press conference featuring local elected officials and community advocates, who each spoke to urge the Austin ISD board of trustees to postpone their vote on the district’s school changes plan scheduled for later that evening, which could potentially close four AISD schools—Brooke Elementary, Metz Elementary, Pease Elementary and Sims Elementary.
Speakers at the media conference included elected officials—from Travis County commissioners to Austin City Council members and state representatives—and community members, including parents of students at the schools set to close and alumni of those schools.
State Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, a former chair of the AISD board of trustees, said the district vowed in 2017 to keep schools open while working to pass its $1.1 billion bond. Unfinished construction projects at schools set to close, Hinojosa said, are the “billboard of the broken promises to our schools.”
“Public trust is paramount to public schools, and public trust requires that basic questions about the future of our schools be answered,” Hinojosa said.
Jeffrey Travillion, who represents Precent 1 on the Travis County Commissioners Court, said trustees would continue a progression of ignoring underprivileged communities if it goes through with the vote. Three of the four elementary schools in question—Brooke, Metz and Sims—are located east of I-35 and have 89 percent or more of their student populations classified as economically disadvantaged.
“Some of our communities have always stood in the back of the line. The clear message we want to send today is failing to plan is planning to fail. We can’t afford to fail our children in the 21st century.”
Two school communities have already come together due to modernization efforts funded by the 2017 bond. As the campuses of Norman Elementary School and Sanchez Elementary School are improved, students are sharing space at Sims and Metz, respectively, and trustee Jayme Mathias said at a Nov. 4 meeting the students are getting along “like peanut butter and jelly.”
“This [anger about closing buildings] is less a kid problem as it is an adult problem,” Mathias said at the Nov. 4 meeting. “You put the kids together and they come together. It would be a shame to take them apart now.”
Still, community members said at the Nov. 18 press conference that the district has not done its due diligence in reaching out to those affected and being transparent. Rev. G.V. Clark, pastor at the Mt. Zion Baptist Church on East 13th Street, said he has lived in Austin for 87 years and school closures would be another piece of a disturbing history of tensions between the school district and East Austin.
“Why is it that so many of us who grew up here are still having to face the challenges we faced 50 years ago? Please, school board members, rethink your decision, sit down with the community and do the thing that’s right,” Clark said.
Due to the high volume of expected public commentary, AISD moved up its meeting Nov. 18 by an hour. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. at the district’s headquarters building at 1111 W. Sixth St.