AISD trustees mull austerity plan proposing shutting 12 schools

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Independent School District trustees considered an austerity plan Monday night that proposes shutting down 12 schools over three years as a way to tighten the belt. 

“As the District works to increase investments critical to student learning, it must also address a looming budget deficit,” Reyne Telles with AISD wrote in an email to KXAN. “AISD is facing a structural budget deficit which threatens its long-term viability and its ability to deliver basic education programs.” 

The draft austerity plan suggests cutting two campuses as early as next year with another seven closing in the 2020 school year and three more by 2022. It does not mention the schools that might be affected. 

Despite being in the preliminary stages of discussing budget cuts, AISD will need to make $55 million in cuts. “This is a draft document and nothing has been decided or proposed,” Telles wrote. 

AISD leaders met with the press Wednesday afternoon. The district has been running a  budget deficit over the past couple years.  Now all the easy options are out. 

Texas school districts are funded per student and as you saw, AISD enrollment is going down.  After the 2008 financial crisis, Austinites stopped having as many kids. Newcomers to Austin are young and single. Now, Many neighborhood schools in the urban core are under enrolled.

So where are these families going? In the past few years thousands of Austin ISD students have left to go to nearby districts – like round rock, Pflugerville, Eanes, Del Valle, and Hays CISD. Thousands more have left the district for charter schools in recent years.

In all, more than 14,400 students left the Austin ISD in the past three school years.

“We’ve faced some challenges in the past. When we focus on our vision, when we focus on or priorities, realigning our expectations and making sure they’re going to fund these expectations,” said Dr. Paul Cruz, Superintendent of AISD.

Right now the district is constrained in state school finance laws. Lawmakers are talking about changing them next January when they meet.  AISD leaders hope the changes they make will help the district with money. 

AISD leaders have mulled this idea before but changed their course under pressure.      This time, they say, they can’t delay the process any longer. 

There are three main aspects they’ll look at when deciding which schools to consolidate and close: the number of students enrolled in each school, the condition of the building, and how easy will it be to move students around to nearby schools. 

“While there might be new options that you see on paper that we’re taking more seriously. This isn’t the first time that we’ve talked about consolidations. Nor is it the first time we’ve tried to have a community conversation around the right elements,” said Nicole Conley Johnson, the Chief Financial Officer for AISD, “Analyzing transportation impacts. What are the academic conditions? What are the facility conditions? So it requires us to do a somewhat deep analytical review and look towards some goals about where we want to balance.”

Conley Johnson also said school boundary changes might also come with any major reforms.   We will know specifics when AISD trustees vote on the budget in six months. 

District spokespeople won’t say which 12 schools it may be looking at or even if they have been identified. But KXAN found some clues in the district’s latest Facilities Master Plan.  It makes recommendations for consolidating 5 elementary schools: Brooke, Dawson, Joslin, Norman, and Sanchez elementaries, along with recommendations about which schools may pick up those students.

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