Austin ISD trustees vote to close four elementary schools in School Changes plan

Pease Elementary School students walk out of class Nov. 18 ahead of an Austin ISD vote to close four elementary schools, including Pease. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
Pease Elementary School students walk out of class Nov. 18 ahead of an Austin ISD vote to close four elementary schools, including Pease. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

Pease Elementary School students walk out of class Nov. 18 ahead of an Austin ISD vote to close four elementary schools, including Pease. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)

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After a day of rallies, a press conference by local leaders and more than two hours of public testimony—where over 80 local parents, students, teachers and elected officials asked trustees to delay or vote against its current School Changes plan—Austin ISD trustees voted in the early hours of the morning Nov. 19 to close three East Austin and one downtown campus for the 2020-21 school year in the process.

As approved, AISD's School Changes plan will close the Pease, Brooke, Sims and Metz elementary school campuses for the 2020-21 school year; draw new boundaries for elementary schools in Southwest Austin; and reinvest savings from closed schools into districtwide programing, according to the district.

Trustees Ann Teich, Arati Singh and LaTisha Anderson voted against the motion, which passed 6-3.

Prior to the vote, the district’s Chief Equity Officer Dr. Stephanie Hawley called the School Changes process “very flawed” and “not transparent.”

“The map of what you have with the school closures is a map of what 21st century racism looks like,” Hawley said.

Hawley—who has advocated for the district to “disrupt the history” of racism in the city—said it is likely nobody at the district “got out of bed” trying to create an inequitable process. However, the process has done damage within the community nonetheless.

“We really did not co-create with [the community],” she said.

Hawley’s sentiment echoed many statements made by community members earlier in the evening, who called the process inequitable.

While some residents praised certain aspects of districtwide scenarios—such as the creation of a special education plan—each of the speakers during public comment was opposed the current plan, asking trustees to delay the vote or to vote against School Changes entirely.

“Stop the closures, listen to the community and build trust,” Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said at the meeting.

Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea, who also attended the rally earlier in the day Nov. 18, called public schools “the bedrock” of public democracy and asked trustees to delay the School Changes vote. She said during public comment that by supporting the School Changes plan as is, trustees would endanger future bonds and drive families away from the district and toward charter schools.

Trustees and some staff members said the plan will allow AISD to allocate its resources better because it will no longer have to spend money to maintain and operate aging buildings, and instead will be able to use that money more effectively in a district that has seen steady enrollment declines.

“Our footprint as a district is too large to adequately support the students within it. I know that’s not what families want to hear,” said District 7 Trustee Yasmin Wagner. “I know we have too many buildings right now, and to me people are more important than buildings.”

Anderson, who represents District 1 and was bused from East Austin to Southwest Austin when she was growing up in the city, said she would not support any of the closures, and the board was making another mistake in a history of bad choices that hurt the East Austin community.

“This is not the message we need to be sending,” Anderson said. “I keep telling y’all. This is traumatic.”

Numerous amendments by trustees to the School Changes motion failed, including two from Teich and one from Singh. Teich requested trustees vote on each individual aspect of the plan instead of grouping aspects together in a single vote, and also asked the district not sell any of the closed school properties. Singh's failed amendment would have removed Pease and Brooke from the closures list for another year until an equity report was released by the district and evaluated.

What was approved?

Effective for the 2020-21 school year, trustees approved:

  • a combined boundary that will send Metz and Sanchez Elementary School students to Sanchez once modernization work is complete in August 2021 and will close Metz;

  • a combined boundary that will send Sims and Norman Elementary School students to Norman once modernization work is complete in January 2021 and will close Sims;

  • a new boundary that will send Brooke students south of the Colorado River to Linder Elementary School, will send the reminder of Brooke students to Govalle Elementary School and will close Brooke;

  • a plan to close Pease and “co-locate” current Pease Elementary students to Zavala Elementary School for a year to create a permanent consolidation plan for the future;

  • boundary changes and associated grandfathering and transfer freezes for Kiker, Baranoff, Kocurek, Cowan, Boone and the new Southwest elementary schools and Bailey and Gorzycki middle schools;

  • a two-year moratorium on requests for proposals for the “commercial sale of each newly vacated property”; and

  • districtwide proposals including plans for expanded school hours, strategic staffing, and academic equity.

By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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