Austin ISD holds public meetings in process to decide which schools to close, combine

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Independent School District is taking the next step to determine which schools it should close and combine as it nears an end-of-summer deadline to recommend changes to the district’s board of trustees.

Tuesday marks the first of seven public meetings, called “community visioning sessions,” in which AISD leaders want to hear from parents and other stakeholders about what they like and don’t like about their schools.

The meeting runs from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Bedichek Middle School located at 68000 Bill Hughes Road. It’s a regional meeting for parents in the 19 schools within the south-central region, but it’s open to everyone in the district. Parents are encouraged to come and go as they please.

It comes about two weeks after the district divided the city into east-to-west regions to better study and understand the resources and needs in each section of AISD. Trustees also voted on a set of “guiding principles” to steer the school changes process. 

Reyne Telles, AISD’s director of communication and engagement, said the district hasn’t made any decisions yet about which schools might need to close.

“To the parents that may think that there is a foregone conclusion through this process, I would tell them I understand that in the past there has been a list or lists of schools” up for closure or consolidation, he said. “We are going to eventually have a list later this summer as we move through this process,” but it doesn’t exist yet.

However, the district started making decisions about where to invest the most money two years ago when voters approved a $1 billion bond to upgrade and rebuild schools across the district.

AISD created a map to show the condition of every school in the district, how much it invested in each and the overall educational suitability of campuses. You can explore the map here to see how your child’s school stacks up against others nearby.

The condition and suitability of campuses will ultimately factor into the list of closures and consolidations, though Telles said other elements, like academic programming and teacher satisfaction and experience, will also feature prominently in any decisions.

In AISD’s central region, three elementary schools within 1.5 miles of one another — Joslin, Galindo and St. Elmo — show different levels of investment despite similar circumstances.

Each of the facilities’ conditions is rated around 50/100, with St. Elmo being the lowest at 42/100. But that school received less funding than either of the others, at $495,000 for heating and air conditioning improvements and new computers, among other minor upgrades.

Galindo and Joslin, meanwhile, are splitting nearly $3.5 million for more substantial upgrades, including to plumbing and roofing systems. 

Compare those facilities to a school like Doss Elementary in northwest Austin; the district recently embarked on a complete rebuild of that facility, valued at $43 million, to modernize the campus and expand its capacity by hundreds of students.

Still, the district says it will treat Doss just like any other school in the process.

“We’re still going to run the numbers,” Telles said, “but their facility and their educational suitability scores are probably going to be so high at that point that the final number will not produce them as a potential closure.”

The district will follow Tuesday’s meeting with six more, four regional and two district-wide, over the next week. See a list of meetings here

AISD will send the information it collects at the meetings to “think tanks” made up of community members. Those groups will come up with recommendations for which schools to close and combine to send to the board of trustees in August. The board will take a final vote in October.

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