Public school begins next week in Austin, but Austin ISD's plan to open a School for Young Men remains in limbo. The district faces many hurdles to open the school, following the failure a bond proposition this May.
When AISD’s bond Proposition 4 failed last May, it meant the district couldn’t borrow $20 million dollars to renovate its Alternative Learning Center in preparation for an all-boys school.
“I think we’re, in my opinion, we’re back at square one as to finding a location and if we want to continue moving forward with that," says Austin School Board Trustee Ann Teich.
The district had originally planned to open a School for Young Men to act as a brother school to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. The plan was to begin enrollment this year or next year for sixth and seventh graders. The school would then expand into the high school grades in the coming years. At a community meeting before this year’s bond election, AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said it’s a matter of equity.
“We’ve got to as ourselves in Austin, 'How can you have a girls school and not a boys school?' And our data is showing that. We have plenty of high need, highly challenged but highly capable students, who might be served better in an environment like this that’s focused on them," Carstarphen said.
A 2005 study from The Gurian Institute found boys are less likely than girls to receive top grades, graduate high school and go to college. And a single-gender school, the study said, may help address that. The district cited this study, among others, as a reason to open the School for Young Men.
But without the money from the bond, the district doesn’t have the funding to renovate a building for the school. And school board president Vincent Torres says the delays also mean the district failed to meet timeline requirements with the Moody Foundation, a foundation that gave the district a $4.6 million grant to set up the school.
Now the district will need to reapply for that grant.
“That’s going to take a little bit of time. But before we submit an application to them again we need to have a plan in mind that’s approved by the board as to how we would go forward," Torres says.
Some board members have expressed concerns that if they don’t have an all-boy counterpart to the Ann Richards School, it could leave the district open to a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled school districts can open a single-gender school without a counterpart, as long as it offers comparable opportunities to male and female students. Still, Torres says he’s always concerned about equity.
“Certainly we want to keep that mind and I think in all fairness we need to make sure we’re offering the males the same opportunities our females have," Torres says.
Meanwhile, the school district is also moving forward with plans to turn two low-income middle schools – Garcia and Pearce – into single-sex schools, one female one male. AISD Trustee Gina Hinajosa says that will be a test for the future.
“I think it’ll be interesting to see now that we’ve approved that, how that goes and how excited these parents are and how successful that model is and go from there," Hinojosa says.
Garcia and Pearce are expected to become single gender starting in the 2014-2015 school year. is