Southwest Key charter school students protest at board meeting


AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than 70 students walked out of Austin charter schools programmed by the non-profit Southwest Key to attend a school board meeting Monday. 

East Austin College Prep, programmed by Southwest Key as part of its Promesa Public Schools program, faces a budget shortfall of $550,000 according to board members and the Superintendent at the meeting. The students walked out of class to support a plan by the Superintendent Jaime Huerta and to criticize the CEO of Southwest Key, Juan Sanchez, for having a salary around $1.5 million.

“That is more than the CEO of the Red Cross,” said Yamilet Perez, a student protest organizer.

The root of the problem for East Austin College Prep is its funding plan was built on having 800 students but board members explained at the meeting they have just more than 630.

Superintendent Huerta proposed to “vacate” most of the MLK campus and possibly rent the space out in order to stave off employee cuts. Students organizers tell KXAN they supported this instead of laying off up to twenty faculty and staff members. 

The board voiced frustration with the facility plan and tabled it. Board Chair Alexia Rodriguez voiced frustration about how she was told of the budget plan Monday. 

“We care deeply about each of our students and remain committed to that goal,” wrote Alexia Rodriguez, Promesa Public Schools Board Chair, in a statement to KXAN after the meeting, “But ongoing budget concerns and recent poor academic results have required the board to closely review school operations and discuss ways to prioritize student achievement and success without compromising the campus space and learning environment.”

A spokesperson for Southwest Key told KXAN Sanchez’s salary was “not pertinent” to why the board was meeting. 

Afterward, Sanchez told several students his salary came from a different program. Students left disappointed.

“They didn’t talk about how much he gets paid. They didn’t talk money-wise really at all. They just talked about consolidating space. It kind of felt like they were just trying to get us out of the room,” said Quinten Williams, a senior at East Austin College Prep and student protest organizer.

The decision to find money to cut is kicked to the next meeting. Student organizers tell KXAN they’ll be there.

Austin-based Southwest Key, located at the same address as the charter school, has been under scrutiny this year because it’s the non-profit that’s housing more than 5,000 immigrant minors in three states including Texas. Since 2015, the non-profit has received $955 million in federal funding.

Staff at the non-profit say 85% of those funds go towards direct childcare at shelters, such as: clothing, housing, food, and medical care. The other fifteen percent pays for indirect costs, such as salaries for staff caring for the kids.

A new date for the next school board meeting has not yet been announced. 

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