Tell AISD there is No Confidence in the Report!
AISD Trustees Hon. Mark Williams, President Hon. Vincent Torres, Vice-President Hon. Lori Moya, Secretary Hon. Cheryl Bradley Hon. Sam Guzman Hon. Christine Brister Hon. Robert Schneider Hon. Annette LoVoi Hon. Tamala Barksdale Dear Trustees of the Austin Independent School District: We, the concerned citizens and tax-payers of one of the most educated communities in the country, are sending this letter to ask that you, our elected representatives responsible for ensuring a strong public education system in Austin, reject the Facilities Task Force recommendations presented to you this spring. Nearly one year and 1 million dollars into the facilities task force evaluation process, we are here to tell you the numbers don’t add up. If the original intention of this costly facilities evaluation process was to come up with an improved and more efficient AISD, the outcome is the exact opposite. To date, there has been no data presented that was calculated with consideration for the expense of closing 9 or more central Austin schools. After numerous requests for specific numbers identifying the cost of “mothballing” existing campuses including but not limited to the cost of student transportation, moving costs, renovation expense for destination school, and loss of AISD tax revenue, we have been presented with no hard data. The question that begs to be answered is “if we are in a budget crisis how can we propose closing existing exemplary schools with available seats and at the same time plan to build new schools with bond money not yet approved by voters?” What should have been an exercise in district-wide facilities maintenance evaluation has turned into an irresponsible blueprint for gutting Central Austin’s neighborhood schools. The Facilities Master Plan Task Force was created to ensure that equity and fairness were maintained throughout the planning process. This process has proven to be anything but fair and equitable, the task force has not upheld its responsibility to the community. There has been no transparency; the process has been wrought with flawed data, inadequate representation of the community and questionable objectives. Members of the community brought forth evidence that the data driving FTF recommendations was flawed and their concerns were ignored. Review of the FCI reports by independent 3rd parties documented numerous instances of outdated, incomplete and incorrect data. Still the FTF continued to use the faulty data in its analysis. We need due diligence before making these kind of monumental decisions. Bad data leads to bad decisions. We also have concerns regarding the composition of the task force. The process has been compromised due to a lack of adequate neighborhood representation. Another concern is the conflict of interest created by allowing AISD employees to sit on the task force. The largest represented party in the process was AISD staff, nearly half of the task force members (49.3%) are employed by AISD in some capacity. How can AISD employees be impartial about facilities planning when they know their decisions could affect their own jobs? Furthermore, the task force was structured with no requirements of attendance. Consider these statistics: of the 22 FTF work sessions between 4/28/10 and 2/15/11, only 6 had better than 50% participation. Furthermore, 49% of the FTF members attended 10 or less meeting; 65% attended 15 or less. In other words a handful of people, mostly working for AISD, were allowed to recommend these monumental decisions that will have lasting impact on our entire community. Perhaps most appalling is the fact that there has been no consideration to the academic quality of the schools put on the chopping block. The list includes some of Austin’s best performing schools, including schools that are performing under extraordinary circumstances. There is a cost to closing exemplary schools that cannot be itemized. Closing public schools that are performing well is a very dangerous message to send. If AISD does not value exemplary schools, then exemplary students and teachers will look elsewhere. In addition to angering members of the communities where schools are proposed to close, the taskforce has risked losing the confidence of the greater population. Without the support of the community it will be almost impossible to pass new bonds. AISD’s 5-Year Strategic Plan commits to “Building strong relationships with students, families, and the community to increase trust and shared responsibility.” This Facilities Master Plan process has, within the span of just a few months, managed to destroy the relationship between the District and thousands of Austin families. In order to begin restoring the confidence of the community we believe it is important for the Board of Trustees to reject the recommendations of the Facilities Master Plan . We stand united before you today to express our vote of “No Confidence” on the Facilities Master Plan that is the final output of this disastrous and costly process. We understand the dire budget situation currently facing the District and the difficult decisions that need to be made to meet the shortfall. We respectfully request before these hard decisions are made that educational quality, accurate data, public involvement, and consequences to the community be forefront in the process.