AISD Board Votes 6-3 to Contract With IDEA Charter School
A divided Austin school board has approved a controversial proposal to bring a charter school into the district. AISD says it will help improve academic performance at some of its struggling Eastside schools. But opponents of the charter school project have vowed to keep fighting.
Immediately after last night’s vote, which came shortly before 1 a.m., some community members shouted “Shame!” at school board members.
The board voted 6 to 3 to sign a contract with IDEA Public Schools – a charter school operator from South Texas. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the urgent need to improve low performing schools merited bold action.
“I absolutely believe that the district has really tried to move forward on some pretty sticky issues that have been plaguing us for decades,” Carstarphen said in an interview after the vote. “I have relentless energy, and I will answer every question, and continue to get out there just as I have been for the last two and a half years.”
The plan takes effect next school year. IDEA will start a college prep style charter program at Allan Elementary in East Austin. In the 2013-14 school year, it will expand to include some grades in Eastside Memorial High School, which is the school district’s main target. The program will be optional.
But some parents, teachers and students were frustrated with an accelerated timeline and what they said was a lack of transparency. They chanted for hours outside the school board meeting last night. And they got former Mayors Gus Garcia and Carole Keaton-Strayhorn to speak against the in-district charter plan during public comment.
Vincent Tovar is one of the central organizers. He has a child at Govalle Elementary.
“At the end of the day, the school board members who were in favor of it at the beginning did not want to change their minds, and wanted to do what they thought was in the best interest of themselves, and not in the best interests of the community and our kids,” Tovar said.
Tovar said opponents plan to organize a boycott of IDEA Public Schools and work to prevent board members who voted for the plan from being reelected. They have the support of the teachers association Education Austin in that goal.
“Anybody that votes for this, there’s consequences for it. This is such an affront to the community, that as an election, how do you support someone that didn’t support the community,” said Education Austin co-president Ken Zarafis.
One of the members up for reelection next year is school board president Mark Williams. And he said he realizes the stakes involved.
“I think certainly given the broad outcry in the community, we’ve got a lot of proving to do to make sure this works well,” Williams said.
IDEA is not the only charter school that will contract with AISD. Board members last week approved a plan to partner with Responsive Education Solutions, based in Lewisville, Texas. It will run a program targeting dropouts, and will have operations in Lanier and Travis High Schools starting next school year.