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Education

Ahead of Public Comment, School District & Developers Say a Public School Is Likely for Mueller

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Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News
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Developers set aside 10 acres of land for a school at the Mueller development. The Austin Independent School District is seeking public comment ahead of its development.

As the Austin school district considers whether to build a school at the Mueller development, it’s reaching out to the public for ideas. The district is holding the first of two public meetings this week, but some in the community wonder whether the plan will result in a district-run public school or a charter school.

The Mueller development has been 15 years in the making, when the Austin City Council approved a redevelopment plan for the former airport that included homes, parkland, businesses and 10 acres for a school.

The Austin Independent School District was told that land would be theirs for free.  And, about a year ago, the Austin School Board said they were interested in building a school there. School Board Trustee Ted Gordon sees a school at Mueller as an opportunity to reinvigorate east and northeast Austin schools.

“Mueller is a possibility of injecting innovation and new resources into a community that has historically, but even contemporarily, been and being ignored and being denied resources,” Gordon says.

But, first, the district needs the board to decide what type of school it wants. It’s looking for input for some other major questions over what type of facility the district should build; what grades it would serve; and whom the district should partner with to create its programming.

Edmund Oropez with Austin ISD says there have already been a lot of ideas, some of which focus on medical or science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM; or, as he says, a combination of both: STEAM.

“STEAM is catching a lot of steam,” Oropez says.

Oropez says he hopes the school board can decide on a proposal by the end of this school year. But the board hasn’t adopted any official deadline, and the developer at Mueller, Catellus, hasn’t given the district a hard deadline either.

Kevin Foster has been running community discussions about a school at Mueller. At a school board meeting in October, Foster said most of the community input he’s heard is in support of an Austin ISD school at Mueller and, he thinks, Catellus is listening to that call.

“At the same time what Catellus has said is that they have a timeline, they have a schedule and they do need to keep moving forward,” Foster says.

Oropez with AISD is more confident in their intentions.

“They’ve been very, very open with us that they don't have an interest in putting a charter school on that land partnering," he says. "They have an interest in partnering with AISD."

But Trustee Gordon isn’t so sure. He says if AISD doesn’t build something on the land, Catellus could give the land to a charter school

“That definitely has been my impression, both from them and also from community members,” Gordon says.

In a statement to KUT, Deanne Desjardin, vice president of Catellus’ Mueller Marketing & Communications, says while the project could move forward without AISD if it came to that, the project has always been envisioned as an AISD-run public school:

Through the years of Mueller’s development, the many complex needs and constraints the district faces have been clear. We’ve included AISD and the community in our exploration of innovative ideas regarding a school, including both in-district and out-of-district public school options. We’re interested and encouraged by AISD’s current Imagine Northeast Austin efforts for the site at Mueller. However, if an AISD project were not possible for the Mueller site, we would continue to engage with the community and reevaluate the remaining options and opportunities for the site, as no decisions have been made.  

The public meeting about a future school at Mueller is on Saturday Feb. 20 at Bertha Sadler Mean’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy. The school district will hold a second public comment session on Mar. 3.

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