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The Austin School Board Wants More Engagement Around Possible School Closures

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Dawson Elementary is on the list of schools slated for possible closure.

There’s still a lot of work to do before the Austin School Board votes on its Facility Master Plan.

Facility and Bond Planning Advisory Committee (FABPAC) members last night were asked to explain their recommendations to the board. The current plan includes eight possible school closures, along with upgrades and renovations at many schools and new school construction to ease overcrowding in areas like Northwest and Southeast Austin.

Roxanne Evans is one of the committee's three chairs. She says closing those eight schools could save the district $10 million to $15 million annually.

“These cost reductions could be used for a number of things, such as expanded academic programming, and that can be academic school time programming or afterschool activities. The funding could be used to support new schools. Funds could also be used for teacher salaries," she told the school board's trustees.

Most trustees primarily asked questions about the recommendations affecting schools in their districts ​– and most had mixed reactions to the proposals.  But many agreed there needs to be more targeted community engagement.

“I don’t think we’ve done enough to engage particular campuses that are affected by recommendations for consolidation," Trustee Paul Saldaña daid. “You know, the expectation is always that the community needs to come to them. Well, we need to go to the community. We should be having meetings at all the schools that are listed or proposed for consolidation.”

The FABPAC committee recently wrapped up nearly two weeks of community engagement with specific neighborhoods, but most suggestions remained the same. Thirty people came to the meeting last night to speak in support of their neighborhood schools. 

One of the big questions left to answer before the plan is approved is what might happen to the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, or LASA. Some parents want the magnet program relocated from Northeast Austin to a more central location. The committee is considering the old Anderson campus in East Austin, which was closed in the 1970s under a desegregation order. Currently, it holds the district's Alternative Learning Center (ALC).

Trustee Ted Gordon doesn’t support moving LASA.

“That move from LASA to ALC could be read as the ultimate step in gentrification of the city," he said. "It’s taking a historic space that is an icon for what used to be a space of black autonomy in the city."

The school board is expected to vote on the Facility Master Plan at the end of March.  

Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote from Roxanne Evans. 

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