Austin public schools superintendent Meria Carstarphen is attempting to pick up and dust off a politically risky facilities master plan that was reluctantly accepted this spring by the nine elected volunteers who govern the largest school district in Central Texas.
The process to adopt a ten year roadmap for managing the school district's many buildings and other facilities began about two years ago. A consultant hired by the district, MGT of America, produced an "efficiency study" in 2009 that urged the district to reduce costs by calculating the most efficient use of its physical resources. MGT said doing so could save the district more than $7 million a year.
AISD operates 78 elementary schools, 18 middle schools, and 12 high schools with a total ofapproximately 12.3 million gross square feet. The District currently is involved in a major capital construction program resulting from the 2008 bond passage. While the District does use some current planning practices, it does not have a long-range facility master plan that establishes the goals for the capital construction program and ensures a successful effort.
A task force of volunteers, chosen mostly by board members, began work on a plan in March 2010, holding public meetings and conferring on their own to begin drafting the phone book sized document.
But the process hit a snag when the task force began openly discussing options to close and consolidate nine schools -- eight elementary schools and one middle school -- that were considered to be severely under capacity. After a public backlash and protests by flabbergasted parents, the task force removed mention of specific campuses for closure.
The damage, however, had already been done. Parents at affected schools knew their campuses had been targeted for possible closure, even if they weren't specifically listed in the final report.
Superintendent Carstarphen has promised no schools would be closed in the 2011-12 school year, unless the state's cuts to public education raised AISD's projected deficit significantly higher than the $94.4 million already forecast.
Nevertheless, when the school board accepted the report in late-March, members agreed to shelve the document and perhaps draw portions of it for possible implementation. That, of course, is far from the spirit of a master plan, which aims to serve as an overarching strategic document that guides district actions from the top.
Tonight, Dr. Carstarphen is trying to move the board towards adopting a facilities master plan it can actually implement. She proposed this timeline to board members at work session tonight.
- May to September: District officials develop recommendation for master plan
- October to November: Board reviews that recommendation with input from the public, and makes changes as it sees fit.
- November: Board would take a vote to adopt mater plan.
- December: Austin ISD begins implementing master plan.
Carstarphen is also asking the board to give the district authority to convene a Citizen's Bond Advisory Committee. That's one of the early steps towards a bond election, a referendum that asks voters to approve property tax hikes to help pay for infrastructure upgrades. The last time Austin ISD voters did so was in 2008.