The cafeteria of Bedichek Middle School in Southwest Austin was chaotic as almost 100 parents fought for the attention of AISD administrative personnel. Some were still in work clothes, some in T-shirts. Almost all of them were asking questions – and sometimes things got warmed. An area staffer had to pull a father into the hallway at one point when his language became combative. This was the Austin Independent School District’s first community meeting to describe its plans to close and consolidate schools.
Maps of different parts of the town were setup along the edge of the area and large symptoms displayed school data. But one concern brought passionate conversations from many parents here: whether their children would be delivered to new institutions. That’s one possible outcome of this process, which nobody working for the district or living in its boundaries is thrilled about. The superintendent and school board said they are having to consolidate schools because of budget issues and declining enrollment. AISD hasn’t announced which schools it’s considering shutting – that announcement will come in September.
The district has said, however, that it won’t close schools in one part of the town just; it wants the changes to affect the entire district. AISD says it wants to make schools more equitable, to make sure all learning students have access to good academic programs, sit in renovated buildings and also have experienced teachers at the front of their classrooms. To achieve that equity, the district may need to redraw school boundaries that assign certain neighborhoods to certain colleges.
Cameron Keller, who was simply pregnant with her first child, attended the initial meeting at Bedichek. She said she desires her child to wait the educational academic institutions her neighborhood is currently zoned for, including Austin High. “A big part of the people who are here are worried about switching from a high-performing college like Austin High to a lower-performing school,” she said. Keller, and a great many other parents who submitted reviews to the region, said they think students from academic institutions with low test ratings could be rezoned to schools with high ratings and vice versa. “I believe that sending high-performing students to mix with low-performing students … will only … look better in some recoverable format,” Keller said.
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KUT obtained 450 anonymous responses parents submitted to the region about potential changes. “We, as a grouped community, have invested so many property tax dollars,” Tara Pit, a mother or father of students at Barton Hills Elementary, in June said at a residential area reviews meeting. 1 million to live where we live and pump thousands of dollars into property taxes. Looks like we will all be turning over moving to North of the West or river of Mopac. Property values are closely tied to schools and can transform if a school isn’t ranked as high.
The value of similar homes in the same part of town can vary by thousands of dollars based on which school an address is assigned. Many families therefore buy homes using areas so their kids can attend certain schools. “One of the primary reasons that we purchased the home we did was because of being in the Bowie college district,” another private parent said in responses to AISD.
This concern is common in metropolitan areas across the country; it’s the way the real estate and public school systems been employed by for decades. As a total result, AISD universities have continued to be extremely economically – and in many cases, racially – segregated. Fifty-three percent of kids in AISD come from low-income households, but few schools can say half of their students come from these low-income homes. The only school that comes close to mirroring the district’s demographics is the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. The school attempts to make a diverse student population through a lottery-based admissions process that takes a family’s socioeconomic status into consideration.
Most other academic institutions in the region either have a majority of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches or a majority of kids who don’t. It’s even more rare for a school to mirror the racial diversity of the district. Most schools are either mostly white or mostly students of color. Neither AISD nor the institution board has proposed large-scale integration efforts, like busing in the ’80s and ’70s. But even tweaking a few school boundary lines could dramatically change the student makeup of a school, and that’s not what many parents planned for.