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After IDEA, an Unknown Future for East Austin’s Allan Elementary (Updated)

Nathan Bernier, KUT News
Allan Elementary will be home to an in-district charter school next year.

Update: IDEA public schools says in the fall it will open its charter school—currently operated at Allan elementary—at The Church in Austin, located at 220 Foremost Dr. IDEA had to find a new location after the Austin Independent School District terminated its contract with the charter program in December.

The decision to break the agreement with IDEA could result in an empty Allan Elementary building this fall. There are some short and long term options for the school building, but mostly a lot of unknowns. 

Original Story (April 10, 2013, 7:41 p.m.): Last spring, the Austin Independent School District contracted with a charter school – IDEA Public Schools  – to run Allan Elementary. 

The goal was to improve the performance of students heading to Eastside Memorial High School. For years, that school has failed to meet academic standards. But in December, AISD canceled its contract with IDEA after some new board members thought AISD should go in a different direction. Now, AISD is looking for a new partner to improve Eastside Memorial. 

“Whatever model we select ultimately has to address the needs of Eastside Memorial," said Vincent Torres, Austin school Board president. 

The unanswered question is what happens to Allan Elementary, a school that wasn’t failing state standards. At board meetings and in interviews, school board members and parents tossed around ideas for future use of the building.

One option is to post AISD employees who currently work in other offices rented by the school district at Allan.  But some parents – and board members – say that's not enough and the community wants students at Allan as soon as possible.

“Schools are the heart of many neighborhoods, they are the pride of many neighborhoods. I feel that way about Metz elementary, I felt that way about schools that my kids don’t even attend. And I know many, many people felt that way about Allan," said Luke Muskiewicz with the community group, Pride of the Eastside.

AISD spokesperson Alex Sanchez says it typically takes a year for school districts to implement a new program at a school. He questions if there is enough time to organize a program by this fall.

“Is there enough time to go through comprehensive, genuine community engagement, where all parents and all stakeholders of the Allan campus can come together with school board to come together to really find a solution?," Sanchez said.

That leaves elementary students with two options: leave the district and continue with IDEA at its new location or stay within the district and transfer to another AISD school.

There are also questions about money. Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has said there is no money in the 2014 budget to educate students at Allan. Still, school board trustee and former AISD teacher Ann Teich says she’s confident the district can place some type of program in Allan by this fall, even if it’s temporary.

“The district can implement things fairy quickly if it’s a high priority and the board asks it be done," Teich said. "I think it’s possible that we can put something in at Allan that will provide revenue or be revenue neutral that will be satisfactory to everyone. People will have to work a little harder, but the district has done it before and done it numerous times in my experience.” 

One short-term solution is to keep the current Pre-K program at Allan in place and build the elementary school from there. Pre-K at Allan is currently run by AISD – not the charter school. It’s still unclear what will happen to that program next year. 

Board members and parents have also discussed a dual language program at Allan. AISD could not provide numbers on how much it would cost to implement a duel language program. But according to an AISD Fact Sheet, an English-Spanish elementary program could cost at least $306,000 to implement. Trustee Vincent Torres says regardless of what the board decides, Allan won’t be empty forever.

“I think we’re really only looking at it to be empty for a year at most. And so we hope that within a year from now we’ll know what we will be doing," Torres said.

In the meantime, the Austin School Board is reviewing new proposals from outside partners to improve Eastside Memorial. It will make a decision by the end of May, which could also impact the future of Allan. 

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