We have been covering the potential closures of a number of schools with the Austin Independent School District (AISD) since the initial rumors began circulating. After all of the heated discussions and town hall meetings, AISD administrators are proposing to change course from the original planning approach and is now suggesting that decision making about facilities occur on a yearly basis, rather than formulating a 10-year plan.
THE NEW APPROACH
In a drastic change in approach, the new plan for handling facilities planning will call for an annual review of needs and opportunities, to be acted on almost immediately. One trustee explained that with so much uncertainty in the overall economic picture, planning for 10 years down the road is unrealistic. Oddly, this is exactly opposite the explanation that was previously offered with respect to the original 10-year plan, which was supposed to help guide overall decision making so decisions in each year adhere to a larger facilities program. In other words, where AISD had once thought having a big picture approach would be the best course of action, they now believe that having a big picture approach is unrealistic.
Starting next September, recommendations would be made each year for the following school year. Final voting on any recommendations will occur in December and would begin to take effect the following August..
IMPACT ON 10-YEAR PLAN
Interestingly enough, the last time we heard about this issue, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen asked for final recommendations for the master plan to be submitted this month, with a final vote by the end of November. Since the new announcement seems to do away with the 10-year plan, it is unsure what will happen with the recommendations that were included in the draft document. It was in the draft document that AISD had first announced a plan to close some neighborhood schools to cut facilities costs.
It also remains to be seen if educators, school-level administrators, and members of the public will have a place at the planning table, as they did with the 10-year plan. By moving to a one-year model, the Board can essentially wipe the slate clean of the controversial recommendations that were included in the original 10-year plan draft.
WILL SCHOOLS CLOSE?
The answer to the biggest question now seems even less clear. While the previous timeline would have indicated some idea of closure plans by the end of this month, the new plan seems to delay any actual facilities decisions to next year, potentially placing any plans to close schools on hold. The 10-year facilities planning drew very little interest until word got out that schools were recommended to close their doors for good. At that point, a very motivated group of citizens, parents, and educators began their fights to keep various schools in operation.
This winding tale continues to meander and sway, while we wait for some sort of concrete decision from the school district. A changing demographic distribution in Austin means some schools are overcrowded while some are underutilized and with the budget cuts expected in the next few years, the cost of maintaining all of the existing facilities seems unaffordable, even though the solution would be extremely unpopular.
For more on this latest development, click here for the original Austin American-Statesman article.
For our past posts on this topic, please visit these links:
– AISD Considers School Closures (Jan 10, 2011)
– AISD School Closures Considers Alternatives (Jan 20, 2011)
– More AISD Schools Added To Closure List (Jan 27, 2011)
– AISD Backs Off School Closures (Mar 10, 2011)
– Imagine Austin Proceeds Forward (Mar 15, 2011)
– AISD To Look Again At School Closures (May 17, 2011)