7 takeaways from March 6 update on facilities master plan to Austin ISD board

Twenty-two elementary schools in Austin ISD will benefit from a state grant funding mental health services.

Twenty-two elementary schools in Austin ISD will benefit from a state grant funding mental health services.

With the vote to approve the revised facilities master plan a few weeks away, finishing touches are being applied to the document, which is slated to outline the district's plan to fully modernize all schools over the next 25 years. Tonight, Nicole Conley Johnson, Austin ISD chief financial officer, and Reyne Telles, executive director of communications and community engagement, appeared before the district's board of trustees to provide an update on the progress of the facilities and bond planning advisory committee, or FABPAC. Here are some takeaways from that conversation:

  • The FABPAC is scheduled to meet both tomorrow and Wednesday to finalize their recommendations. According to Johnson, the goal is to have a final progress report for the board to review at its March 20 meeting, followed by a finalized list of recommendations to be put forth for a board vote one week later.

  • Once the plan has been approved, the next step is to begin refining specific projects outlined in Phase 1, or the schools deemed in the most need of attention within the first six years of the plan's implementation. Those projects will serve as the basis for a potential November bond election.

  • According to Johnson, it is highly likely that the FABPAC's deliberations over the next two days will result in a change to how the district is planning to execute school closures. In order to remove the stigma some community members allege is associated with their school's placement on the closure list, Johnson and Superintendent Paul Cruz indicated that strategies would be put in place to ensure a smooth transition. According to Telles, Sanchez Elementary School is the only school in Phase 1 recommended for closure and subsequent consolidation with the nearby Metz Elementary School.

  • Based on what was put forth at tonight's meeting, trustee Paul Saldaña said he is not supportive of the proposed plan to carry out school closures. At this point, he said he cannot reconcile closing a school in order to cut costs rather than selling district-owned properties not currently used for educational purposes, which he argued could yield a greater monetary return.

  • Trustees Julie Cowan and Yasmin Wagner expressed a desire to see departmental needs targeted by the plan. According to them, the recommendations are too broad and do not address the impact of school modernization on specific departments.

  • Wagner said that although she acknowledges the emotional consequences of school closures, the fiscal gain associated with consolidating campuses is too important to ignore. According to her, those funds could be allocated toward improved teacher compensation and retention, which in her view strongly contributes to the district's ability to serve students.

  • Trustee Jayme Mathias said keeping underenrolled schools open is an injustice to the district. Rather than busing students to schools outside of their neighborhood in order to bring facilities up to capacity, he said there should be a greater focus on schools that have healthy enrollment and are in dire need of resources.

By Olivia Lueckemeyer
Olivia Lueckemeyer graduated in 2013 from Loyola University New Orleans with a degree in journalism. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in October 2016 as reporter for the Southwest Austin edition before her promotion to editor in March 2017. In July 2018 she returned home to the Dallas area and became editor of the Richardson edition.