Today is the first day of summer vacation, as the public school year came to a close yesterday in Austin. For students at IDEA Allan Elementary School, a charter school run by IDEA Public Schools, it was the last day of school at that campus. They’ll be leaving behind an empty building and taking with them millions of dollars of future district revenue.
A sign at the school reads, “Our daily attendance goal is 98 percent.” But next year, attendance will be zero. The charter school is moving nine miles south and operating independently. That’s because the Austin school district canceled its contract with the program.
“We’re disappointed,” said Larkin Tackett, executive director of IDEA Public Schools in Austin. “We continue to be committed to partnership, but we’re looking forward. This is a long-term commitment.”
When AISD contracted with IDEA, it drew criticism from East Side residents. The community wanted Allen Elementary to remain a neighborhood school, rather than a charter school.
But 80 percent of the students at Allan are moving with the charter -- leaving the Austin school district. That’ll cost the district about $60 million over the next seven years.
Connie Liscano’s daughter just finished third grade at Allan. She says the school helped her daughter improve her reading skills.
“We retained her in first grade because of her reading,” Liscano said. “She was passed in second, but I knew she was still having problems. So when I heard about IDEA Allan I enrolled her here, and she brought her reading up the first six weeks.”
Liscano says her daughter will go to IDEA next year. She and other parents waiting outside Allan on Wednesday afternoon, like Robin Thompson Monroe, had similar feelings:
“I just wished they would’ve given them a chance,” Monroe said. “They have this school going away, and they don’t know what they’re going to be doing with Eastside Memorial as well, so, again, it’s just a strong indicator that how the ties have broken severely with AISD and their community.”
Soon afterward, though, Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams told Eastside graduates he had approved a plan to join with Johns Hopkins University and keep the high school open.
Few East Austin residents, less than 18 percent, actually send their children to Allan. Most go to Govalle or Ortega elementary schools. When AISD contracted with IDEA, Leticia Carbajal transferred three of her children from Allan to Ortega. She says she’s frustrated with the district.
“I don't even know why they changed everything in the first place,” Carbajal said. “They only hurt our children, they hurt the teacher, they even hurt us, the parents.”
Vincent Tovar with neighborhood group Pride of the Eastside says it’s unfortunate the Allan building will be empty next year. But he says it’s a year for AISD to rebuild trust with the community.
“The district didn’t honor their wishes to begin with,” Tovar said. “Let’s rebuild trust and figure out what does the community actually want, what does the community actually needs, and lets do what’s best to address those issues.”
The Austin school board had discussed putting a pre-K or dual language program at Allan next year. But nothing has been approved. According to the district’s chief financial officer, Nicole Conley, closing Allan will save AISD $3 million in operating costs in next year’s budget. Austin School Board President Vinent Torres has said the campus will only remain closed one year.