education
1:33 pm
Mon November 8, 2010

Austin School Board to Hear That Few Want Schools Closed

When the Austin Independent School District constructs a school, it doesn't always know how many children that building will have to serve in ten, twenty, or thirty years' time.

That's why the district finds itself in a bind now.  Some schools are crowded, like Perez Elementary, which currently operates at 135 percent capacity. Other schools are severely under used. Becker Elementary, for example, has enough space for 524 students, but only 194 enrolled in the 2009-2010 school year.

The school district is trying to craft a Facilities Master Plan that will guide its response to these and related challenges in the years to come. As part of the process, the district held eight public input sessions over the past few months. The results of those sessions will be presented to the school board tonight.

Anyone can see the results now online, and they illustrate a serious challenge facing the school district: no one wants schools closed in their neighborhood, even if the schools are severely under populated.

Areas where school closures were a consideration include Planning Area #2, located within Crocket High School and Travis High School attendance boundaries. The notion of closing an elementary school west of I-35 was not supported in the community dialogues. But a proposal to construct one east of I-35, to deal with overcrowding in that area, was strongly supported.

Similar outcomes were reported from community discussions at Planning Area #3, which covers East Austin. That district has eight schools under AISD's 85 percent capacity target, including Blackshear Elementary, which operates at 40 percent capacity. Options to consider closing one or two schools were both rejected by community members.

In Planning Area #4, which covers Reagan and LBJ High School attendance boundaries, the district reported "inconclusive" support for school closures. Other planning areas don't have the same under crowding issues, and therefore are not considering school closures.

Tonight's board meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and can be watched live on Time Warner Cable channel 22 or streamed online. The item on facilities master plan is scheduled for 6:40 and scheduled to last an hour.

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