Education
12:23 am
Tue December 18, 2012

AISD Cancels Contract With IDEA Charter School

An experimental partnership between the Austin school district and a South Texas charter school company will come to an end. On Monday night, the AISD board voted narrowly in favor of terminating its contract with South Texas charter school operator IDEA Public Schools. It's a new affirmation of the old cliché, "elections matter." 

When Austin ISD hired IDEA Public Schools to run Allan Elementary almost exactly a year ago, the main target wasn't even Allan Elementary. It was Eastside Memorial High School, a campus that has failed to meet state academic standards almost every year since the modern Texas' accountability system began. Fix high school outcomes by targeting kids earlier, at least that was the rationale.  

But the district moved very quickly, alienating some families who were worried about losing their neighborhood school. Others, including education researcher Dr. Ed Fuller, raised serious questions about IDEA's claims to success.  

When the board approved the contract last year, it was a split vote -- 6 to 3 -- and opponents chanted, “Shame! Shame!” right there in the school board auditorium.

Some of those critics formed an organization called Pride of the Eastside. They supported four school board candidates who were openly skeptical of the IDEA in-district charter. Three of those candidates won -- Jayme Mathias, Gina Hinojosa and Anne Teich -- shifting the balance of power on the board.

Last night was the first chance for those new board members to revise the district's contract with the charter school company. During the public comment period, they heard from some of the same parents who supported them during the election. 

“I ask that you terminate AISD's contract with IDEA, just as I stood here a year ago asking you not to sign it,” said Luke Muszkiewicz, who has a child that will attend Eastside Memorial High School.

The board also heard from some of the parents with children in IDEA Allan, who said they were impressed with how the college-focused program already had their kids thinking about going to a university.

“I see her turn into a leader from being very much a follower,” Heather Cords said of her sixth grade daughter attending IDEA Allan. “She would follow any bad example any one of her friend would set. And now she is the go to person for how to act at school, how to act at home, how to do your schoolwork." 

The school board was originally scheduled last night to vote on a change to the contract with IDEA that would have kept it operating at the Allan campus, but would have prevented it from expanding to Eastside Memorial High School next year as planned. However, the broker of that compromise, newly elected Trustee Mathias, changed his tune last night, and urged for a cancelation of the contract instead. His fellow freshman school board member Gina Hinojosa echoed the sentiment.

"I’m just tired of this fight. It’s not good for our community,” said Hinojosa. “It’s divisive. And so I do believe that we need to make a decision today on how to proceed. At some point so much damage is done that it’s time for a divorce.”

The board voted 5-4 to cancel the contract with IDEA at the end of the school year – reflecting by the numbers the new balance of power on the school board.

IDEA has said it would establish an independent charter school in Austin if it can’t continue its contract with AISD. The charter school operator will lay out its plans at a press conference Tuesday morning.

Separately last night, the Austin school board voted to approve another in-district charter school at Travis Heights Elementary.  That one was three years in the making, and it was a homegrown initiative led by Austin Interfaith and the AISD employee association Education Austin. Organizers had more than 90 percent of parents and employees to sign a petition of support. The school board approved it unanimously.

AISD board also learned about a list of schools frozen to transfers this year. And trustees approved several major educational programs known as Annual Academic and Facilities Recommendations (AAFRs). Those include an additional $1 million for arts education next year, expansion of dual language programs, and continuation of a drop out prevention program operated at Lanier and Travis High Schools by Responsive Education Solutions