AISD transfer season begins, board talks policy

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Austin ISD parents have until Jan. 31 to submit requests for school transfers for the 2014-2015 school year. The district’s student transfer process covers a variety of specific circumstances that range from students attending the same school as their siblings to involuntary transfers of students who engage in bullying.

The AISD board of trustees aimed to get a better grasp of the current transfer, choice and boundary policies as part of a Jan. 6 board dialogue. Board president Vincent Torres said the intent of the meeting was not to focus on potentially changing policies, but to better understand transfer policy in terms of how it relates to decisions made when the board hears grievances. The district did not take any action at the meeting.

“We just started transfer season today,” said Zoe Griffith, AISD director of student services. The first day to submit transfer requests was Jan. 6, and the last day to submit a request to receive consideration as a priority transfer—including transfers because of siblings, tracking patterns or majority-to-minority transfers—is Jan. 31.

Generally, schools that are operating at more than 100 percent capacity in terms of enrollment are frozen to transfers, Griffith said. Based on staff projections compared with schools’ capacity, the district makes an announcement of what schools are frozen to transfers. AISD then accepts priority transfers at those schools and looks at enrollment again in February. For schools that are not frozen, AISD determines available space by grade level.

Much of the board’s discussion centered around Diversity Choice, which allows students in some attendance areas to choose to attend a school outside their tracking pattern with bus transportation provided by the district. Griffith said about 78 high school students in AISD have transferred using Diversity of Choice, and the district should consider whether the return on investment is sufficient.

Students can also opt for a minority-to-majority transfer from a school where the student’s ethnic group is more than 50 percent of the school’s population to a campus where the student’s ethnic group is less than 50 percent of the school population.

District 5 trustee Amber Elenz asked for updated numbers showing where students are opting to transfer.

“The Diversity Choice has worked very well in District 5 at least that’s a historical feeling; if it really is changing that would be very good information for me to understand,” she said.

Torres noted one example trustees should consider is that some schools are frozen to transfers, yet they are underenrolled. Trustees advised Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and the administration to look into such schools, in particular Small and Lamar middle schools.

Conversely, some overenrolled schools are not excluded from transfers.

“Bowie [High School] is busting at the seams, yet priority transfers still go in, so the school continues to be overwhelmed,” trustee Lori Moya said.

Trustees discussed possible options such as limiting the types of transfers parents and students can choose. Trustee Tamala Barksdale said she supports maintaining Diversity Choice transfers as an option.

“I would advocate that our answer as a board and as a district … is improving neighborhood options to maintain enrollment as a form of choice for families rather than removing an official form of choice like Diversity Choice,” Barksdale said.

Carstarphen said that in the four years she has served as superintendent, the district’s transfer processes have not changed. Board members had requested a discussion on transfer policies, and she said the administration would need clear direction for the district to take any action and have enough time to inform parents about changes.

“These aren’t things that we change haphazardly from one year to the next. These are long-standing practices in AISD that may be new for some people, but are not new to our district,” Carstarphen said.

At another meeting, the board will have an additional discussion specific to objectives laid out in the facility master plan and whether changing transfer policies could address or achieve those objectives, Torres said. Board dialogues are not televised. The board has a work session scheduled for Jan. 13.

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Kelli joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter and has been covering Southwest Austin news since July 2012. She was promoted to editor of the Southwest Austin edition in April 2015. In addition to covering local businesses, neighborhood development, events, transportation and education, she is also the beat reporter covering the Travis County Commissioners Court.
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