The Austin (Texas) school district has proposed shuttering 12 elementary and middle schools to address years of dwindling student enrollment.
The Austin American-Statesman reports that the proposal calls for Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Sims, Maplewood, Metz, Palm, Pease, Pecan Springs and Ridgetop elementaries, as well as Webb Middle School and Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy, to be closed and consolidated with other schools. The majority of the enrollment at all but three of the schools is made up of low-income students.
The campus closures are among 40 draft scenarios in the “2019 School Changes” proposal, which includes school boundary changes, grade realignments and teacher housing. It also calls for a significant investment of new programs in underserved communities, including placing many of the students whose campuses would close into new school buildings. District leaders says the proposed changes aim to provide more academic opportunities for low-income, Latino and black students.
“It’s time to focus on equity in our academic programs, which is why we’re doing these school changes,” board President Geronimo Rodriguez says. “The proposals the administration is making are not about winners and losers. ... Yes, it includes consolidations (and) closures, but we as a community have to have the conversations about whether we believe we need good schools in every part of this community and we need to be sure we’re making investments where we have not in the past.”
For more than 25 years, the school district has been criticized for keeping chronically low-enrolled schools. State officials, consultants and district committees have called on the district to address inefficiencies. Although some schools have been put on lists for potential closures, the district has put off the decision. After enrollment dropped fpr the sixth consecuitive year, the school board indicated earlier this year that clsoings could no longer be delayed.
In a move that could shake up the demographics of some of the district’s highest-performing schools, officials will revamp admission practices at all of its magnet schools and admission-based campuses. The new criteria have not yet been developed, but district leaders say the goal is to enroll more low-income students,
The plans also call for converting Northeast High School (formerly Reagan) and the all-boys middle school Gus Garcia for Young Men’s Leadership Academy into campuses for sixth through 12th grade students; a bilingual Montessori school at Winn Elementary; International Baccalaureate programs at Kocurek Elementary and Covington Middle schools; the addition of a multicultural studies curriculum at all middle and high schools; and the expansion of school hours from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. across the district to offer before- and after-school programs.
District leaders also propose creating affordable housing for teachers and other school workers, though it is unclear where such housing would be. The district annually loses 600 to 800 teachers, many of whom leave for neighboring school districts, where housing is cheaper and pay is often higher.