School Changes V2 FAQ

Q: Will School Changes result in staff losing their jobs? Will campus staff be able to stay together?

A: No, staff will not lose employment. The district is committed to ensuring that all AISD employees in good standing that may be affected by School Changes proposals are guaranteed a position. As was done most recently with schools that underwent closure or consolidation, Human Capital staff will meet with the affected school staff to discuss any timelines and concerns. During the consolidation process, all staff members will be given the opportunity to complete preference surveys to determine individual needs and preferences. These preference surveys will allow Human Capital staff to find the best placement for each individual.

Q: Why is the district proposing closing schools at the same time it’s building new ones?

A: The reality is that our aging facilities are compromising our ability to adequately resource our schools. Across 129 campuses, it would cost upwards of $7 billion in order to modernize and rehabilitate existing schools and infrastructure. Last year alone the district received over 80,000 work orders—that’s one per student—and we can’t keep up. The 2017 Facilities Master Plan outlined a new direction for the transformation of our schools into modern learning environments that provide flexible spaces for collaborative, interdisciplinary, and project-based learning, as well as spaces to support our communities. The district’s past practice to “fix what’s broken” does not advance the goal that all of our schools have the types of spaces needed for 21st century learning and increased access to technology. The intent of School Changes is to build on that plan and reduce the number of facilities that need to be modernized so we can get more students in modernized spaces quicker. Modernized schools not only are better learning environments but they are far less costly to maintain, allowing us to put our dollars where they belong—in the classroom.

Q: What does a school modernization mean?

A: The term “modernization” means to bring an existing building up to “like new” conditions consistent with the district’s design standards, referred to as Educational Specifications. AISD is committed to preparing all students for college, career and life and that begins with the learning environments where our students and staff learn each day. The Educational Specifications for a modernized school provides:

  • Flexible Learning Spaces: Relationships—with both students and educators—are improved through the creation of learning neighborhoods. Within these neighborhoods, flexible learning environments are created that accommodate a variety of learning and teaching styles.
  • State-of-the-Art Technology: With today’s technology and instant access to information in multiple formats, learning is no longer limited to the seven hours within the 180 days that our students are in school each year. Technology will be integrated within facilities in order to support this blur of time and place.
  • Community Spaces: In order to properly address the needs of the AISD Community, thoughtful community spaces will be integrated into each campus that respond to the needs of each facility’s unique context, develop partnerships, and provide community support.

Q: Didn’t the legislature fix the budget shortfall?

A: House Bill 3 did provide an influx of funding to AISD, however, the vast majority of the money was used to provide overdue raises for all staff. We struggle to be competitive with our salaries to recruit and retain highly qualified staff. The district still adopted a budget for Fiscal Year 2019-20 with a $3.1 million deficit. The additional funding provided relief, but we must continue to budget conservatively and efficiently in order to maintain long-term structural balance and sufficient reserves as the district continues to pay recapture payments to the states. We anticipate sending $612.2 million in recapture to the state this year.

Q: Doesn’t the School Changes plan require another bond to deliver on more modernized facilities? What if a bond doesn’t pass?

A: If a future bond doesn’t pass, the district would not be able to fund the proposed projects. School buildings will continue to age, and the costs for repair and construction would increase. The district would have to use its operating budget to address emergency needs putting further strain on our ability to adequately resource our schools. Since the district still has a shortfall in its operating budget, it would be unable to cover the costly repairs for aging facilities. As such, if a future bond doesn’t pass, schools would still need to be considered for consolidation and/or closure, and students would attend schools that have not been modernized. Further, the implementation of the 25-year Facilities Master Plan developed by Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee would be substantially delayed.

Q: Why hasn’t the district first considered boundary adjustments and feeder patterns?

A: Every fall, when new enrollment data is available, the district’s planning team works with the Boundary Advisory Committee to evaluate whether opportunities exist to address overcrowding and under-enrollment. The committee typically looks for an under-enrolled school that is adjacent to an overcrowded school. Unfortunately, the district has a concentration of under-enrolled schools in certain geographic areas, which make boundary adjustments difficult. The district has committed to continue to evaluate boundary proposals over the next several months, and has consulted with a third-party demographer to do this work. This work will ultimately include recommendations to address overcrowding at all school levels and better align feeder patterns with the goal of strengthening academics from elementary to middle to high school.

Q: What will happen to a repurposed property?

A: The district has not determined the future use of any campus that might close. The goal is to ensure that any future use of repurposed sites continues to add value to the community. The district will consider many options for repurposing sites - affordable housing, workforce housing, creative spaces, vocational and shared work spaces, mixed use community centers, child care facilities, and educational gardens for example - and will actively seek out ideas from the community. To be sure that repurposing and reuse for these sites are made in partnership with our communities, the district has established a framework that will be used for each of the properties.

Q: Why were more east Austin schools proposed for closure than in other parts of Austin?

A: When schools were built in central east Austin, they were built small and close together because many were designated for students of a particular race in order to uphold segregation. As a result, there is a concentration of small schools in central east Austin. This area was once densely populated and schools were full. However, that is no longer the case, as many families who were there for generations have moved out of the area. This has led to general under-enrollment of schools in the area. Furthermore, many of our older facilities are in poor physical condition and need to be rebuilt or replaced. One of the goals of school consolidations is to provide better learning environments for students as soon as possible.

Other areas of the district, including west Austin, do not have the same challenges. Many schools outside of central east Austin are at or over capacity and do not have adjacent schools with available capacity to receive students if they were to close. While there are not solutions that are as readily identifiable for schools in west Austin, we are continuing to explore options so that closures and consolidations do not disproportionately affect historically underserved students.

At this time the district is only proceeding with consolidations that can be implemented in the 2020-21 school year to allow more time to reassess the closures initially proposed for the outyears. Throughout the spring, we will continue to collaborate with schools that were previously identified for consolidation and with any new school communities that might be identified as a result of this work.

Q: How will the district support campuses affected by closure/consolidation?

A: The district envisions a six to nine-month process to design and begin implementation of the support needed to transition schools affected by closures and consolidations. We want to ensure that students, parents, teachers and school leadership have the resources and social-emotional support to make it easier to navigate a closure or consolidation. Each campus is unique and will have its own needs, challenges, and triumphs that will be addressed during the process.

Q: What happens to the scenarios that are not voted on in November?

A: The district will manage a collaborative process with affected communities and stakeholders affected by potential closures or proposed academic programs. During this phase, campuses and communities will have an opportunity to address: the problem we are trying to solve; ways to change or improve the scenario options; a study of the existing research; and an analysis of the fiscal impacts. At the conclusion of this process, the district would be prepared to present revised scenario options for consideration and a board vote.

Q: Why is AISD undergoing a process to reimagine, reinvest and reinvent our schools?
A: To support our vision of reinventing the urban school experience, the 2017 Facility Master Plan committed to ensuring that district facilities continue to support excellence in teaching and learning at every level by supporting emerging models of 21st-century learning. We know the learning environment has a huge impact on student success, but the reality is that some of our learning spaces are simply not suited to support the kinds of innovative instruction our students want and deserve. Today, the district is operating numerous aging and under-enrolled facilities, which ties up many of our dollars in recurring maintenance and overhead. We have the responsibility to assess whether those dollars would be more wisely invested in more robust academic programs, enrichment opportunities and whole-child supports for our students. Freeing up some of those funds will enable us to offer more specialized programs distributed more equitably across the district, ensuring all students have a robust menu of options to appeal to their talents and interests. 

Q: Why are some of our schools facing under-enrollment?
A: The city of Austin has changed significantly over the past few decades and our schools experience many of the effects of that change. AISD has lost just over 6,000 students since its peak enrollment in 2013. Furthermore, the 2019 demographic report projects that we will lose another 7,000 students over the next 10 years.

The lack of affordable housing has led to families moving further outside the city. While many people are moving here, according to the city of Austin demographer, fewer of those people have school-aged children. 

Another factor contributing to our enrollment challenges is the increased competition from charter schools. Many charter schools within the AISD attendance area have expanded and some of our families are choosing these options. 

Q: How does enrollment affect my school community?
A: Schools that are significantly under-enrolled or are considered “small” due to the limited number of classrooms can have negative impacts on a school community, as they are not always able to offer robust opportunities and support for students. Because funding and staffing allocations are tied to the number of students attending a school, fewer students results in fewer resources. This means that schools have to make difficult decisions and trade-offs regarding staffing, the number and variety of elective classes, and programs offered. Additionally, the ability for collaboration and peer support amongst teachers is limited when some of our schools only have one or two classrooms per grade level. Lastly, smaller campus communities can also face challenges in recruiting enough families to participate in the PTA or other campus activities that provide additional support to the students and teachers.

Conversely, schools that are significantly overcrowded have their own unique challenges. Portable buildings are used to provided additional classrooms, which are located away from the permanent structures, and limits the ability for collaboration with students in other classes. Core spaces like the gymnasium and cafeteria also become stressed due to the number of students using these spaces.

Q: Why are modernized facilities so important for our students?
A: Modernized school facilities provide for flexible spaces that can adapt to the changing technology and careers of the future.  Rapidly evolving technologies, a globalized economy, and advances in science are transforming future educational and career opportunities. AISD is working to transform curriculum and instructional practices to equip our students with the skills needed to navigate those changes– what we call the 6Cs of collaboration, communication, connection, creativity, critical thinking, and cultural proficiency.

Modernized spaces and tools can enable our students to experience a new kind of learning in a way that is personalized and powerful. Through bond programs and the current work to reimagine, reinvest and reinvent - the district can begin to improve many of our schools that are not designed to support these innovative educational goals and programs. 

Q: Does the district already know which schools will be closed?
A: No. The district is not working with a predetermined list of campuses identified for consolidation, closure or repurposing. We are committed to taking a new, more comprehensive approach than past processes. Rather than analyzing whether or not an individual campus should be considered for closure, we’re taking it up a level, looking holistically across the district. That means identifying the needs and opportunities at every one of our campuses, taking numerous factors into account–not just current enrollment–to produce more creative, equitable, and sustainable solutions that will position us for success for years to come. We anticipate having a sense of which schools may be affected by this process, including recommended closures, by late summer. 

Q: How many schools will be consolidated, closed or repurposed?
A: We won’t have an idea of how many schools will ultimately be consolidated, closed, or repurposed until late summer after scenarios are developed and analyzed (see reinvention roadmap).

Q: How will AISD decide which schools will experience changes? 
A: The district has developed a transparent decision-making process that will take place over approximately ten months. The first step is to collect data on all 130 of our schools and gather community feedback on what it might look like to come out of this process with reimagined school communities that are stronger and more equitable than they are today. We will then group all of our schools into planning regions and establish a methodology that we will use to develop and analyze regional scenarios. The school changes guiding principles and feedback from the community will be used to select a final scenario for each region that will be recommended to the Board of Trustees. Once the final recommendations are adopted by the board, the district will begin planning and implementing the school changes no sooner than August 2020 when we will invite families, students and staff into their reinvented school communities. 

Q: Why is the district creating planning regions to analyze scenarios and how will the regions be determined?
A: Planning regions allow us to analyze the challenges and opportunities of each of our schools in relation to other schools in the same region. For example, challenges of overcrowding or under-enrollment must be considered within the context of other regional schools that could be utilized to balance enrollment. 

District staff is considering feedback from campus leadership to determine the best way to create regions that provide for the greatest opportunity to achieve our goals to reimagine, reinvest and reinvent.  

Q: Why not just use Vertical Teams for regional planning? 
A: Traditionally we have grouped schools together by vertical teams, or by geographic regions that are bounded by major thoroughfares. While those factors will be considered, we recognize that if we limit our thinking to the way things have been done in the past, we might also limit the kinds of solutions we come up with.

These maps are not being used to change attendance boundaries or change vertical teams. They are strictly for planning purposes as we creatively reimagine programming for the district.

To be clear, in the future, the School Changes process may yield recommendations that could result in changes to attendance boundaries, feeder patterns or vertical teams but we are not at that point in the process yet. 

Q: What factors will the district consider as it evaluates potential school changes?
A: The district is looking at a number of factors including but not limited to the facility condition score, educational suitability score, utilization, deferred maintenance costs, program offerings, school climate and culture, graduation rates, college readiness, teacher experience, student demographics, operational costs, transportation costs and real estate values. Keep in mind that these factors will not only be used to determine if a school would be considered for consolidation but also to explore other changes that could benefit the campus or region as a whole. Examples could include, receiving or reassigning students, adding academic programming, or providing additional student support services. 

Q: When will we know which schools will be affected?
A: Throughout the process, we will explore many scenarios which may be adjusted to better align with the guiding principles, and we will get feedback and input from the community to help realize and explore innovative solutions. We will develop and analyze scenarios in July and August, and we will present the draft scenario options to the Board of Trustees on Monday, September 9, at the Board work session. The draft scenario options will be made public on Friday, September 6. The Board is scheduled to vote on the school changes scenario recommendations on Monday, November 18

Q: How will AISD invest in schools that receive new students and communities that are affected?
A: The 2017 Bond Program planned to invest dollars in every one of our schools. If it is determined that a school will be consolidated, closed, or repurposed, we will work with the AISD Community Bond Oversight Committee and the Board of Trustees to reassign those dollars to schools that will receive students. We will also work with our communities to ensure that receiving schools offer robust programming that meets the needs of the campus and region.

Q: How will AISD decide what to do with schools that are no longer being used as schools?
A: We know we may no longer need every one of our buildings to support student learning so we are working with our partners–municipalities, health care organizations, county government, the City of Austin, Travis County, and others–to identify opportunities that would allow our facilities to continue benefiting the community. This could mean affordable housing, workforce housing, green spaces, recreation spaces, shared use, social services or private development. We are committed to working with our communities to explore options that make sense financially and are responsive to the needs of our communities. 

Q: Why isn’t the district waiting until the end of the legislative session to make these decisions if AISD could see increased funding?
A:
We are hopeful that the legislature will do what is necessary to give our students every dollar we need to support their academic and personal growth. That being said, changes in the state school finance system do not relieve us of the responsibility to conduct comprehensive planning for better facility and program planning.

Money matters in public education; and, it should be well spent. AISD has the responsibility to ensure that we are spending our dollars in a way that best supports student learning and success. Continuing to educate students in aging, outdated facilities does not meet district goals to provide modernized spaces that support 21st-century learning environments. Further, it does not allow the district to maximize funding for students by shifting dollars away from high-cost maintenance and building overhead to programs and direct services for students.