Education
8:40 am
Tue December 4, 2012

New AISD Board To Examine IDEA Charter Contract (Update)

Update: The Austin School Board will continue to talk about the district’s contract with IDEA Public Schools at its regular meeting later this month.

Right now, IDEA is just operating at Allan Elementary. But the charter will grow to include more grades and expand into Eastside Memorial if the board doesn’t make a decision to end or change the contract before the end of the year. Board member Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias proposed that the contract continue but be changed to keep IDEA from expanding into Eastside Memorial next school year.

Under his proposal, IDEA would continue to include more grades but, instead of moving on to the Eastside Memorial campus, seventh graders would stay at Allan.

The board will talk about the contract at its meeting on Dec. 17.

At that meeting the board will not talk about the plan to create a School for Young Men. The board decided last night to postpone that plan indefinitely because members couldn’t reach consensus on it.

Original Story (Dec. 3, 4:44 p.m.): One of the defining issues of November's school board election will be on the agenda tonight at Austin ISD headquarters. The board will review a contract it approved in a 6-3 vote last year with South Texas charter school operator IDEA Public Schools.

The contract allowed IDEA to use the Allan Elementary campus in East Austin to set up an in-district charter school program. Allan was not a failing school, but the high school it feeds into, Eastside Memorial, has been ranked as “academically unacceptable” for multiple years.

Some East Austin residents felt like the IDEA partnership was rammed through too quickly. The school district said the urgency of improving middle and high school outcomes required drastic and immediate action.

The political reverberations were felt district wide, and during November elections, three school board candidates who openly questioned the IDEA partnership were elected to the board, shifting the balance of power against the in-district charter school.

One of those so-called “insurgent” candidates was Rev. Dr. Jayme Mathias. His East Austin district includes Allan Elementary, and he defeated incumbent Sam Guzman by focusing his campaign on what he said was a lack of public input in the board’s decision making process.

"It broke apart an entire community. And by bringing in that in-district charter there are ripples of fear and concern throughout the entire district,” Mathias said in a pre-election interview.

Mathias won, but it was by a narrow margin of just 104 votes. He has now tempered his message.

"The vote was so close, and so I don't take as my mandate the fact that I have to close this school, so much as that I have to bring healing and help to build bridges in this historically divided community,” Mathias said today.

As if reviewing the in-district charter contract weren't contentious enough, board members will also tackle a controversial proposal tonight that would convert Pearce and Garcia Middle Schools into single-sex campuses. 

The work session starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be streamed on AISD’s website