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Austin ISD Equity Officer Calls Closure Plan 'Racism' Before Board Votes To Close Four Schools

Julia Reihs
Kami Land, Juliana Sheffield and Hazel Wiggin holds signs in support of keeping Pease open during the Austin ISD school board meeting Monday.

The Austin Independent School District's Board of Trustees voted to close Brooke, Metz, Sims and Pease elementary schools – despite the district's chief equity officer calling the closure plan racist.

“The map that you have of the closures is a map of what 21st-century racism looks like,” Stephanie Hawley said to applause at Monday night's meeting. “We did not deliberately do that, but we didn’t disrupt history. Our process for selecting schools was flawed; it was inequitable.” 

Hawley started the job in August, after staff had spent months constructing a plan to close schools and overhaul district programming. 

She told the school board she couldn't find any documentation about how schools were chosen and recommended AISD bring in national consultants to do an equity audit.

Before the vote, Trustee Arati Singh proposed a motion to go forward with closing only Metz and Sims – two East Side schools with mostly low-income students – because the 2017 bond had already started the process of consolidating them. She asked to remove Brooke and Pease from the list and take more time to consider those schools. 

LaTisha Anderson, who represents the Sims community, told Singh removing the other two schools would send the wrong message. 

"The message that you are sending is that you do not care," she said. "That it's OK to move Sims to Norman, but go ahead and pull Pease off of there." 

Still, many trustees said the closures needed to go forward so more money could be allocated for academic programs and teacher salaries, rather than for maintaining old buildings. The proposal passed 6-3, with Singh, Anderson and Ann Teich voting against it.

The school board listens to public testimony ahead of the closure vote.
Credit Julia Reihs / KUT
The school board listens to public testimony ahead of the closure vote.

The approved plan has Metz closing and consolidating with Sanchez, and Sims closing and consolidating with Norman by the end of the school year. Brooke students will either attend Govalle or Linder next school year, depending on where they live. Pease students and current staff will move to the same building as Zavala for another year while the district figures out what to do.  

The board’s vote also included boundary changes for Southwest Austin that will affect some families zoned for Kiker, Baranoff, Kocurek, Cowan, Boone, Bailey and Gorzycki.

Teich said she didn’t think the closures and improved programming should be voted on together, but said she understood the district's grave financial situation. She challenged the community, which has been vocal throughout the process, to step up and help address the district’s ongoing enrollment problems. 

“I’m going to challenge you, community, who has said you’re going to increase enrollment, you’re going to work to bring partners in, you’re going to work to hopefully advocate at the Legislature for them to fund us the way we need to be funded,” said. “If you don’t walk the talk, these changes will come up again.”

The community has questioned the urgency of the plan, noting the Legislature passed a bill this session that increased school funding.

Nicole Conley, AISD's chief business and operations officer, has said, however, that the money was immediately used for staff raises and that the district will be operating at a deficit next year.

AISD is currently using its reserves to pay for day-to-day operations. The administration says closing schools and saving money on maintaining old buildings frees up more money for teachers and academic programming. 

District staff said they will begin deciding in January whether to close eight other schools on the initial closure list.

The post has been updated.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said LaTisha Anderson represented the Metz community.  

Got a tip? Email Claire at Follow her on Twitter at ClaireMcInerny.

Claire McInerny is a former education reporter for KUT.
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