Austin ISD mulls reducing portables use

Staff: It would cost $430M to stop using trailers altogether

Austin ISD is considering how it might reduce its use of portable classroom buildings on campuses throughout the district.

In September—four months after voters rejected two of the district's four bond propositions—the board of trustees scheduled a Nov. 11 discussion on strategies for portable use reduction and possible elimination. Trustees reviewed a draft report on portable use in AISD and sought more insight from the district's facilities team at a Nov. 11 board work session.

Portable buildings and portable classrooms are not the same thing, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen noted. Portable buildings can contain as many as three portable classrooms, according to AISD.

"Proposition 2 would have allowed us to construct some efficient classroom space to replace at least 80 of our portables, but Prop. 2 did not pass," she said. "In the short term, schools still have to rely on portable buildings to provide capacity. In the long term, a portable reduction plan could be developed, but it also depends on how we might be looking forward to future bonds and so on and so forth."

As of the 2013–14 school year, there are 630 portable buildings and 1,206 classrooms within portable buildings in AISD, according to the district's preliminary utilization and portable classroom building comparison.

Trustees Jayme Mathias and Lori Moya pointed out that portable buildings are not only being used at overcrowded schools, but also throughout the district at schools below capacity. For example, middle schools in AISD are at an average capacity of 83 percent, yet 177 portable classrooms are being used at those schools.

Cook Elementary School in North Austin—the district's most overcrowded school—is at 167 percent capacity and has 26 portable classrooms. In comparison, Akins High School in Southwest Austin has 40 portable classrooms, more than any other school in the district, and is at 108 percent of permanent capacity, the report states.

Carstarphen said she has heard several reasons why portables are being used at under-enrolled schools, noting some are being used for after-school programs and that some portables are too old to move.

In Northwest Austin, Lanier High School has 28 portable classrooms, while Anderson High School has two. Burnet Middle School, which is operating at 109 percent capacity, has 28 portable classrooms, according to the report. At the elementary school level, Wooldridge is at 124 percent capacity and has 26 portable classrooms. Summitt has 18, Hill has 16, Davis has six and McBee has two. AISD's new North Central Elementary School No. 2 will aim to relieve overcrowding at Cook and Wooldridge, according to the district.

"We always get told that portable classrooms are a way of alleviating overcrowding on a campus, on a temporary basis at least. But we've got schools that have had portables since they opened in the mid-'80s," trustee Robert Schneider said.

Because some portables house non-instructional programs, trustee Gina Hino- josa said the district should carefully evaluate each of those to determine their value.

AISD staff calculated it would cost about $430 million to eliminate portable buildings by converting them into permanent space and that the expense would be cost-prohibitive without a future bond election to fund the program.