Committee Set to Deliver Vision for Future of Austin ISD’s Schools

Feb 9, 2017

A committee tasked with imagining the future of Austin ISD’s 130 school buildings is taking its suggestions to the Austin School Board on Monday. The board is expected to question the Facility and Bond Planning Advisory Committee, or FABPAC, about its recommendations on school construction, renovations and closures.

“You’ll see the FMP referred to as a 30,000-foot document," committee member Tali Wildman says, referring to the Facility Master Plan, which maps the future of the district’s schools. "I prefer calling it an onion, because every time you peel away something, you’re finding something else. Maybe not an onion, but an archeological dig.”

Wildman, who has a daughter at Dawson Elementary, says the review process has had somewhat of a domino effect. As soon as committee members become aware of one issue, she says, “they’re like, ‘What about this? What about that? There’s a hole here. Did you know that this exists?’”

Once you start digging, things can get pretty complicated.

For example, FABPAC has spent time discussing the future of the district’s prestigious magnet high school, the Liberal Arts and Science Academy in Northeast Austin. The initial recommendation was to relocate the school to a more central location since many students travel from across the city to attend. 

But when you brush back the dirt, you begin to see the complexity. Residents in Northeast Austin — an area that has been historically neglected — don’t want to lose the school. So FABPAC discussed moving LASA to the old Anderson High School nearby in East Austin. But LASA is a predominantly white school, and not everyone was comfortable with the idea of relocating it to a former African-American school that was forced to close because of desegregation.

Then there’s the contentious debate over which schools should close or consolidate. According to documents from this week’s FABPAC meetings, eight schools are slated for possible closure — despite protests from many community members and parents. The list includes:

  • Brooke Elementary
  • Dawson Elementary 
  • Joslin Elementary
  • Lucy Read Pre-K
  • Ridgetop Elementary
  • Sanchez Elementary
  • Norman or Sims Elementary, depending on what the community decides

Leticia Caballero, one of the committee chairs, says FABPAC had to make hard decisions, but members agree on one thing: that students need to learn in modern spaces.

“Many times the school district has put a program in a space just because it’s available space, not because it’s been fitted or made to be the science lab or to be the dance room," Caballero said. "It’s just whatever space is available, and so our overarching goal is to plan out a master plan of what those spaces … would actually look like.”

Many of the recommendations are based on demographic reports that look 10 years in the future. But changing projections over the past year have raised questions about how reliable that data is. Caballero says that’s why the plan won't be set in stone.

“While a school might appear to have this declining enrollment, should actual demographic reports come back and show that’s not the case anymore, in the plan there’s a rubric that would allow the school board to make some changes," she says.

That’s just another complex part of the Facility Master Plan the committee has to dig through before giving final recommendations Monday. After Monday's meeting, the committee will go back to the community for a third round of engagement. The Austin School Board will take the final vote on the plan by the end of March.

Clarification: Because the list of schools slated for possible closure is still in development, some schools appearing on this list may not make the final version, which will be voted on in late March.