All but one of the nine members on the Austin school board voted in favor last night of adopting the Facility Master Plan framework – a document that will guide decision making over how to manage AISD’s more than 100 schools and 12 million square feet of space.
Trustee Vince Torres, the vice president of the school board, offered a full-throated defense of the document, which was brought to the board after a lengthy and at times combative two-year process.
“Is it going to need tweaking? Absolutely,” Torres said. “But we need to start somewhere. I encourage us to start with this particular document.”
The lone dissenting board member, Trustee Robert Schneider, agreed that the district needed a facility master plan process, but said he had a “great deal of concern and trepidation” about the framework, given the controversies that emerged from the process in the past.
One of those controversies erupted during an earlier attempt at drafting a Facilities Master Plan, a process led by a task force of volunteers that gradually fell apart after a draft version of the document listed eight schools for possible closure. Parents fought back and the board’s distaste for the document grew, even though the final version listed no specific schools for closure. Trustees eventually sent the plan back to district staff for an overhaul.
The second process to draft a Facility Master Plan was led internally by AISD administration. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen assembled a working group and produced a document that differs in some substantial ways from the political hot potato that was produced by the Facility Master Plan Task Force.
AISD says there are four key differences in the new Facility Master Plan framework:
- The new planning process uses “enhanced” data to determine the condition of its facilities, relying on definitions used by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
- The new planning process takes into account the academic outcomes at schools, not just the efficiency of the structure on the campus.
- The new planning process examines both permanent and functional capacity of a school in examining its efficiency, not just its permanent capacity. Functional capacity includes portables but doesn’t include classrooms used for administrative purposes like office space for central staff. Permanent capacity includes only the permanent buildings on site.
- The new planning process uses a range of 75 to 125 percent to determine schools that are over- or under-capacity. The document produced by the task force used a range of 85 to 115 percent. The district doesn’t count transfers for these purposes, only kids who live within the attendance zone who are attending a school.
If you take a look at the document adopted by the board last night, you’ll notice that large sections of it are still empty, like the chapter on what AISD likes to call, "Annual Academic and Facilities Recommendations" (AAFR) and another chapter on the implementation of a timeline.
The board is scheduled to vote on the first AAFRs December 12. They are expected to include, among other things, a proposal to partner with South Texas-based IDEA Public Schools to create an in-district charter school.