Austin ISD board votes to scrap IDEA contract

On Dec. 17, the Austin ISD board of trustees voted 5-4 to terminate the district's contract with IDEA Public Schools at the end of the 2012–13 school year.

AISD's partnership with IDEA, which in 2011 set out to establish an in-district charter at the former Allan Elementary School, was a hot topic during the trustees' campaign season in November, trustee Jayme Mathias said. The challenge for the new board will be to bring the opposing sides of the IDEA issue together, he added.

"The hope this evening is that we can help to bring healing to the East Austin community so that we can continue to move forward," he said.

Mathias, as well as trustees Ann Teich, Gina Hinojosa, Robert Schneider and Tamala Barksdale, voted to terminate the contract.

Those trustees also voted against an amendment to the contract, which would have allowed IDEA Allan to continue operating but would have delayed the program's planned expansion into Eastside Memorial High School.

"As long as I've been on the board, this is probably one of the hardest things that has come before us," trustee Cheryl Bradley said, adding she did not support canceling the contract without a clear plan for what will happen next. Bradley, along with trustees Lori Moya, Amber Elenz and board President Vincent Torres, voted against the contract termination.

The motion approved by the board directs the superintendent to work with trustees and the community to formulate a plan for the former IDEA Allan community and the Eastside Memorial vertical team, which includes the elementary and middle schools that feed into the high school.

Hinojosa said the IDEA partnership has been divisive in the community, and she did not want the argument over it to continue for another year.

Community feedback

During citizens communication, many speakers opposed IDEA moving into Eastside Memorial High School, and some Eastside Memorial students camped out overnight—despite finals taking place this week—to ensure they were able to sign up for citizens communication.

Andrea Nerio, a senior enrolled at Eastside Memorial, said she and fellow students opposed IDEA coming into the school.

"It's not fair for us as students who have watched many teachers leave our school because of low support from AISD," she said to the board. "End a partnership with IDEA. Start a partnership with Eastside students instead."

Luke Muszkiewicz, a parent of two students attending an elementary school that is part of the Eastside Memorial vertical team, favored terminating the contract altogether.

"We're here because it's not simple, it's not clear, and many of us disagree with the specific approach AISD chose to take with IDEA last December," he said. "Wanting to help our kids is not enough. We have to figure out how to do what's right for them. And that is hard."

When the board voted to terminate the contract with IDEA, parents and teachers in attendance cheered. However, an open letter to the AISD board signed by parents of 500 IDEA Allan students indicated not everyone was in favor of terminating the contract with IDEA.

"It is too early to close our school," the petition stated. "In fact, it is unfair to us. We have not been given an opportunity for our voices to be heard. It is unfair for the AISD trustees—many who ran for office with the goal of community engagement—to not engage our community. We chose to send our children to IDEA Allan, and we are happy that we did."

Parent Heather Cords said when she looked for a school to send her sixth-grade daughter, she chose IDEA Allan.

"It was the only acceptable choice in the entire school district," she said.

Moya said she didn't want to take away a program that is working for more than 500 children. Teich said that is what happened to Allan Elementary School students last year.