Trustees talk transfers, potential policy changes for Austin ISD

At a work session Aug. 11, members of the Austin ISD board of trustees discussed potential changes to its transfer policy as part of implementing its facility master plan.

In AISD, six schools operate at more than 135 percent over permanent capacity—Blazier, Doss, Wooten, Perez, Pickle and Hill elementary schools. Several more, including Bowie High School, are operating above 115 percent over capacity.

The board did not take action at the work session. Staff presented data and asked trustees whether they want to consider modifying priority transfers, but board members including Robert Schneider said the discussion should be broader and cover what types of transfers the district should continue to allow.

"We have to go out to the community to talk to them about these issues, and we make a dramatic, big, fundamental mistake if we don't," Schneider said, noting staff is seeking input from local campus advisory councils but that may result in schools asking for updates such as boundary changes without considering effects on other schools. "I really think that there needs to be some more refined and detailed guidance as to what is an acceptable outcome."

The FMP is a document outlining how facilities are used throughout the district and will be used to help guide future bond elections, according to AISD. One of trustees' goals with the FMP is to identify specific plans and solutions to achieve a target range of 75 to 115 percent of permanent capacity when compared with projected student enrollment, beginning with the opening of the 2016–17 school year.

Chief Operating Officer Lawrence Fryer said staff is examining the most severe overcrowding cases in phase one of the FMP's implementation.

"We didn't just kick the 115 [percent] and the other two categories down the road," Fryer said. "Those will be addressed mid-school year so that we can get a start on those next summer."

Trustee Lori Moya said she would like the board's policy committee to examine options for changing transfer policy, particularly in terms of schools frozen to transfers.

"If we're going to freeze schools to transfers, then why do we allow priority transfers to continue? I don't think we should. I, for one, would like to look at eliminating that practice," Moya said, adding boundary changes should also be part of the discussion.

Student Services Director Zoe Griffith said while that seems intuitive, it is hard to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach.

Transfers in AISD

Priority transfers make up about one-third of all transfers in AISD, Griffith said.

If priority transfers were blocked at Bowie, that could mean about 200 students would stay in the Akins High School attendance zone, putting the burden on that school, Griffith said. She added that while priority transfers are the problem at Bowie, they are not necessarily the primary cause of overcrowding at every campus.

"When you think at priority transfers, in my opinion, you really have to take it school by school and try to determine what's going on with that school and then build a plan around all of the data that we can get in terms of what is affecting the enrollment in the school, including the priority transfers," she said.

Trustee Amber Elenz noted she even sees general transfers coming into overcrowded schools.

"Those would be transfers that were appealed and for whatever compelling reason, either the associate superintendent or whatever level [of administrator] approved it. All the way up through the board," Griffith said.

Schneider said he supports allowing academic and curriculum transfers and reiterated that he hopes AISD can implement a Liberal Arts and Science Academy model elsewhere in the district.

He added that while Bowie is "only 18 percent" over capacity, "Eighteen percent is 500 kids, and that's a lot of kids to be putting in a building."

Fryer said part of the FMP implementation process will be determining what neighboring schools and CACs need to be involved in discussions about potential changes for any particular school. Additionally, principals at the involved schools will work with CACs to select "team leads" to address FMP issues, he said.

Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz said that for example, some schools will say they do not want boundary changes, while others will say it is the best solution for their school, but both affect each other.

"Any one impact at one school is going to have an impact somewhere else," Cruz said.