Education

Austin ISD, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, Texas A&M University, charter schools, legislative issues, and anything else related to K-12, public education, higher education and workforce development in Central Texas, Travis County, and Austin.

Photo by KUT News

The Austin ISD school board will discuss alternatives to their current, longstanding consultation agreement with Education Austin tonight.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Bowing to pressure from parents, superintendents and state lawmakers, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott said he will defer for one year a rule that would have required a new standardized test account for 15 percent of a student’s final course grade. The waiver applies to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR test). 

Photo by ChrisMPowell http://www.flickr.com/photos/85175437@N00/

In an early morning drug bust on the Texas Christian University campus, 17 students were arrested — a record number for the school — for allegedly dealing drugs including marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, acid, and prescription drugs such as Xanax and hydrocodone.

The arrests were the result of a six-month investigation conducted by the Fort Worth Police Department in conjunction with TCU Campus Police into drug selling in an around the TCU campus. According to university officials, 17 of the students have been "separated" from the TCU campus and face expulsion if found guilty.

Photo by jrandallc http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrandallc/

The Lake Travis Cavaliers won the last five Class 4A state football championships. But now the University Interscholastic League is bumping up Lake Travis to 5A, the division populated by the state's largest high schools. As the Austin American-Statesman notes, that puts Lake Travis in a district with Westlake, Bowie, Austin High, Anderson, Del Valle and Akins.

Photo by Jessie Wang for KUT News

Some high profile members of the education community aren't pleased with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Robert Scott's speech yesterday criticizing the role of testing in Texas public schools. 

Speaking to 4,000 school officials at the Texas Association of School Administrators' annual midwinter conference, Scott received a standing ovation when he called for an accountability system that measured "what happens on every single day in the life of a school besides testing day." He also said that he would not certify a ban on social promotion next year unless schools received more money from the state to offer remedial classes to students. 

The Austin school board will vote tonight on the schematic design for a new $40 million district-wide performing arts center to be built next to the Dell Children’s Medical Center at the corner of Mueller Boulevard and East 51st Street. The board approved buying the empty 3.5 acre lot last April for about $4 million.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin ISD board will vote tonight on whether to spend $16 million left over from the 2008 bond package. But at least one item on the plan dealing with an in-district charter school is likely face some opposition.

Back in 2008, Austin voters approved  $345 million in spending for the school district. Then the recession hit. Construction prices dropped. And AISD wound up saving a bunch of money.

Now, the school district wants to spend $16 million of the $19 million in left over “bond contingency funds.”  The school district’s lawyers say that’s okay as long as it fits with the original intention of the bond.

Some of the money would pay for dozens of critical renovations at schools across town, like replacing an elevator at Anderson High School, repairing the heating and cooling system, and fixing waste pipes under the kitchen at Eastside Memorial High School.

Photo courtesy www.flickr.com/jesabele

A judge has been named to hear several lawsuits brought by school districts against the State of Texas, to protest the way public education is funded.

Judge John Dietz, of the 250th Judicial District Civil Court in Travis County, will preside over the suits. The news was trumpeted by the Equity Center, a coalition of several poorer school districts. An Equity Center offshoot, the Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition sued the state last year alleging Texas’ system of school funding was unconstitutional. As the coalition wrote in a complaint, “Taxpayers in low wealth districts who are willing to tax themselves at the highest rates allowed are unable to access the same dollars for education as taxpayers in high wealth districts who tax themselves at a lower rate.”

Photo by Daniel Reese for KUT News

The lockdown at Manor High School has been lifted, after it was determined the "suspicious device" in question was a non-explosive replica of a military grenade.

Meanwhile, Pflugerville ISD police and the Pflugerville police department briefly investigated a threat at Hendrickson High School before giving the all-clear.

The following statement is from the Manor ISD website:

This morning an unauthorized adult brought a suspicious device onto the Manor High School campus. The device was only seen in the school parking lot and the person never entered the building. All students and staff were moved to Manor Middle School as a safety precaution. Travis County Sheriff’s Office has determined that the device was a replica grenade. Law enforcement and school officials are in the process of returning students to their campus. Students can be released to parents from Manor High School but we prefer that students remain on campus so instruction is not disrupted any further.

Photo by KUT News

A year-old report on “Texas’ School-to-Prison” pipeline is spreading across the Web, due to a report in The Guardian looking critically at police arrests and citations in Texas (and Austin) schools, and follows recent efforts within AISD to change the way it disciplines students. 

The Guardian describes the story of Sarah Bustamante, a 12-year old student at Austin’s Fulmore Middle School. She was issued a criminal misdemeanor citation by a campus police officer for what she describes as spraying herself with two bursts of perfume during class.

This phenomenon – issuing criminal citations for student behavior that, in the past, wouldn’t earn offenders much more than a trip to the principal’s office – is examined at length in a report from Texas Appleseed.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

Teacher salaries have not budged for the last two years in Austin ISD. And it was that way for a lot of districts across the state in the wake of last year’s $5 billion in cuts to public education.

But now some school districts, including several around Austin, are thinking about raising salaries next school year. And AISD may not want to be left behind.

According to one analysis that will be presented to board members tonight, Austin ISD ranks 15th in teacher pay, compared to other Texas school districts. That’s only if you include employees' social security contributions paid by the district. Otherwise, AISD is 18th.

Photo by Callie Richmond for the Texas Tribune

As Texas schools whittle their budgets in response to the state’s multibillion dollar education cuts, they are eyeing every expenditure, from athletics to busing and even field trips.

Photo by Nathan Bernier/KUT News

Opponents of an Austin ISD’s in-district charter school are trying to wage a boycott campaign against the program. Members of an Eastside Memorial High School community group have organized as Pride of the Eastside and are trying to prevent South Texas-based IDEA Public Schools from operating college prep programs in two eastside schools.

Lake Travis Middle School sits right next to Lake Travis High School.

The Lake Travis school district has fired a custodial worker who said she saw a man with a gun at Lake Travis Middle School in early December, prompting a four-hour security lockdown of that campus, the neighboring high school, and an administrative building.

“Upon extensive review of the incident, District officials have concluded that there exists no evidence to substantiate the claim” of seeing a gunman, the district said in a letter sent to parents. The letter says the employee was fired at 4 p.m. Friday.

The lockdown on December 9 rattled nerves as law enforcement swarmed the scene, scouring for a suspect. Agents from the Travis County SWAT Team, several local police departments and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives conducted several sweeps but never found a gunman.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Austin and Round Rock school districts have joined more than sixty school districts responsible for educating 1.5 million children in the fourth recent lawsuit against the state over its school finance system. With one-third of Texas’ student population, it’s the largest group of school districts ever to file suit against the state over how it funds education, according to plaintiff attorneys Thompson and Horton.

“The group represents rural, big town, small town, suburban, urban, fast growth, property poor, property wealthy, and average wealth districts,” the law firm wrote in a news release.

AISD trustees voted to join the lawsuit in October. The suit says the state has increased the academic requirements for school districts, but failed to provide funding to pay for it.

School funding in Texas is in turmoil. State lawmakers slashed more than $4 billion from education this school year — one of the largest cuts in state history — and more than 12,000 teachers and support staff have been laid off.

Academic programs and transportation have been cut to the bone. Promising reforms are on hold or on the chopping block. Next year, the cuts could go even deeper.

Rarely do Austin school board meetings get this heated. But a marathon session on Monday drew more than a hundred people, most of them disgruntled over the elected body’s push to bring a charter school into the district to operate college prep programs at two East Austin schools.

After a public input session in which opponents of the IDEA charter school plan lambasted board members for moving quickly to adopt the proposal, trustees held a lengthy debate and ultimately approved the plan in a 6-3 vote.

In case you missed the meeting or wish to relive it again, the AISD board has posted the full six hours on YouTube. Check out part one above. You can also watch part two and part three.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

We received a few emails from people asking to know specifically which members of the Austin school board voted for and against a proposal to establish an in-district charter school program at Allan Elementary and Eastside Memorial High School.

We neglected to list the specific trustees in our story on the 6-3 vote to contract with South Texas-based IDEA Public Schools, so here’s how the vote panned out:

Screen capture of Twitter

A Twitter post by the president of the University of Texas at Austin College Republicans was “offensive and embarrassing,” according to the University of Texas dean of students Soncia Reagins-Lilly.

Cassandra Wright Tweeted early on Sunday morning: “My president’s black, he snorts a lot of crack. Holla. #2012 #Obama.” Her account has since been made private.

“We embrace free speech and encourage the open exchange of ideas,” Reagins-Lilly said in a news release. “But we also urge all students, alumni and friends to act respectfully and adhere to The University of Texas at Austin honor code which calls for ‘integrity, honesty, trust, fairness, and respect toward peers and community.’”

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

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.

Photo by Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

For Bill Powers, 2011 has been a year full of upheavals.

Certain issues were foreseeable for the president of the University of Texas at Austin, the state’s largest and arguably most prestigious public university. State lawmakers were heading into a legislative session with budget axes at the ready, and nationally there were questions about the value of higher education.

Then, in early February, when he should have been testifying at the Capitol about the university’s financial needs, Powers suffered a pulmonary embolism. He was in the hospital for a week.

It was the first struggle in a year marked by high-profile battles involving Powers — to some, the university’s very own Dumbledore; to others, a particularly large bee in the bonnet of higher education reformers.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

So much community and media attention was focused last night on Austin ISD’s controversial proposal to outsource an East Austin college prep program to a South Texas charter school operator that we didn’t have time to tell you about other sweeping overhauls the school board approved for next year.

Here’s a recap of what the board approved.

Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen says she doesn't know if enough school board members will support her controversial proposal to create an in-district charter school program. The board is scheduled to vote tonight on the deal.

"I actually probably don't spend a lot of time trying to count votes or influence our trustees in that kind of way," Carstarphen said in a press briefing with reporters. You can see her full response by watching the video above.  

Board members appeared split on whether to adopt the issue at a work session last Monday. Board members Robert Schneider, Annette LoVoi and Tamala Barksdale were as vocal in their reservations as they were in prior meetings.

Carstarphen needs at least five of the board’s nine members to vote in favor of the IDEA charter school proposal for it to pass. All board members are present for tonight's meeting. 

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

As far as school board meetings go, tonight's should be among the most exciting of the year. Trustees are set to vote on a roster of plans that could bring significant changes to the school district in 2012-13. Here’s a quick guide to the evening:

Photo by Joel Martinez, The Texas Tribune

A crucial vote is scheduled for Monday by the Austin ISD school board. Trustees will decide whether to contract with a charter school operator from the Rio Grande Valley to develop an in-district charter school for children in East Austin.

Some school board members have expressed hesitation about a partnership with IDEA Public Schools. One of Trustee Annette LoVoi’s concerns focused on the transparency of governance at IDEA compared to the Austin ISD.

“We are a school board. We are transparent. We hold open meetings. We disclose all sorts of things,” LoVoi said. “I’d like to see a version of that undertaken by any entity that we contract with.”

Photo courtesy laffy4k http://www.flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/

Education Austin has been the lone organization representing AISD staff for the past twelve years, but now Superintendent Meria Carstarphen is opening the door to changing that, and the teacher’s association is not happy about it.

"This is an attempt to marginalize our voice. And we're disappointed that the district is taking this path," Education Austin co-president Ken Zafaris told the Austin American-Statesman. He accuses Carstarphen of seeking to punish Education Austin for its opposition to a proposal to create an in-district charter school in East Austin.

But Carstarphen denies anything of the sort, telling the Statesman that most AISD staff chose not to be represented by Education Austin, and she wants an organization that will serve more employees.

Marjorie Kamys Cotera, Texas Tribune

University of Texas System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was one of a dozen higher education leaders from around the country invited to the White House on Monday for a meeting with President Obama about the issues facing colleges and universities.

Cigarroa told the Tribune on Tuesday that the president spent roughly an hour with his guests, including Carnegie Mellon University President Jared Cohon, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Chancellor Holden Thorp, and Jamie Merisotis, the president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation for Education, among others.

“There’s no doubt that he has a significant interest in higher education,” Cigarroa said of Obama. “He’s very concerned about the increase in student loan debt.”

Image courtesy NAEP

Students in the Austin Independent School District are outscoring other large urban districts – including Houston and Dallas – in one of the most-watched math tests in the country. The National Assessment of Educational Progress’s (NAEP) report tested fourth and eighth grade students in 21 urban districts across the United States.

Photo by Nathan Bernier, KUT News

A plan by the Austin Independent School District to set up a pre-kindergarten program in a cluster of portable buildings at Webb Middle School – something the district calls a “Pre-K Village” – is receiving a cold shoulder from the Austin ISD board member whose district includes the campus.

“I just have difficulty with having four-year-olds in portables in inclement weather, the cafeteria being a portable, and the physical education space being a portable,” Trustee Cheryl Bradley said during last night’s school board meeting. “Even the design I’ve seen gives me heartburn.”

AISD is facing a district-wide problem of elementary school overcrowding. But this proposal focuses on the elementary schools in north central Austin – Barrington, Cook, Graham and Hart – that are overcrowded, even with portables. In some cases, lunch has to start at 10 a.m. and end at 1:30 p.m. just to give all the kids a chance to eat in the cafeteria.

Pages