October 2017 | AISD Bond - Special Edition
In this special edition of the Left up to us newsletter, we are presenting arguments for and against the proposed AISD bond from two active Lutu members who both have extensive knowledge of and experience with advocating for better education policy here in Austin
Vote "No" on the AISD School Bond
By Susanna Woody, LUTU Member
These are my thoughts on the bond as a candidate for County Commissioner of Precinct 4 with seven years of experience as a school board trustee. I am also speaking as a person of color, a supporter of public education, and a social activist. I respectfully disagree with some of my fellow DSA, LUTU, and political party members and believe that this bond perpetuates Austin ISD and the City of Austin's legacy of institutional racism, structural inequality, and economic inequality. I’m worried about this bond’s possible repercussions for the community I hope to serve.
Let’s start by painting a picture. Regardless of where the physical boundaries lie, we often hear that Austin is two cities: one of the wealthy and the privileged, where the majority of Austin's voters live, and one of the economically and socially disadvantaged communities who make up the majority of Austin's non-voting population.
The proposed $1,050,984,000 Austin ISD Facilities Bond—if passed as currently written―would continue to increase the disparity between the haves and the have nots. No one should settle for bread crumbs while others are getting the bakery.
Enough is enough. We need to stop allowing affluent people with money to take advantage of communities of color and those at a disadvantage.
This bond was intended to replace old facilities, address the state of standing facilities, and ease overcrowding. The bond was not intended to turn around academic performance, as several AISD board members have claimed.
Anyone concerned about charter schools should still be worried, because until AISD improves academic success and performance in all schools, parents will continue to look to charters and surrounding districts for better educational support.
“Worst First” is more like “Loudest First”
I have great respect for those that spent more than 18 months on the bond, and I don’t want to diminish their efforts, but I believe that the selection of bond priorities was extremely biased and poorly planned, and as a result, the bond favors some schools over those that really need attention.
Austin ISD claims that the bond adopts a “worst first” strategy: the schools in worst shape are getting bond money first. But this claim is in contradiction to what is actually in the bond.
There are $4 billion in deferred maintenance, which means that buildings have $4 billion in needed repairs or upgrades. In reality, AISD is catering to the loudest first, since a school like Bowie is receiving $91 million and yet there are 40 other schools with a lower Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) score or a lower Educational Suitability Assessment (ESA) score.
Last-minute add-on’s to the bond provide for upgrades to the new Northeast Middle school and Ann Richards. I will acknowledge that there is a need at Ann Richards, but that is not the point. The point is that those schools are examples of schools added to the bond package only months before the board approved it due to very loud and affluent parents.
Examples of loudest first vs. worst first:
Compare Bowie's FCA and ESA scores to all the others. This is just one of many examples.
Bowie High will receive $91 million - FCA 64, ESA 61
Travis High will receive $9.5 million - FCA 58, ESA 45
Allison ES will receive 1.1million - FCA 43, ESA 50
Blanton ES will receive .8 million - FCA 39, ESA54
Martin MS will receive 4.7 million - FCA 44, ESA 46
Oak Hill ES will receive 1.2 million - FCA 40, ESA 51
O.Henry MS will receive 3.1 million - FCA 38, ESA 63
St. Elmos ES will receive .5 million - FCA 42, ESA 58
Williams ES will receive .7 million - FCA 34, ESA 47
Zilker ES will receive 1.2 million - FCA 41, ESA 63
This is not good planning.
On one hand
• The bond provides for five schools to be closed due to under-enrollment. Please spare me the claim that no schools will be closed. If you consolidate schools into one, you are in fact closing schools. Listen to the wordplay by board members. It is very misleading.
On the other hand
• The bond provides for building and modernizing five schools due to overcrowding while 27% of the district is under-enrolled. How can you justify building any new schools with that many empty seats?
One way to address overcrowding and under-enrollment is to change attendance boundaries. I’m not saying to transport students across town; I’m saying to reduce and expand boundaries. This would ease overcrowding and address under-enrollment.
Example: Bowie's Vertical Team is overcrowded by 1,376 seats, yet Crockett's Vertical Team has 2,104 empty seats, and it borders Bowie.
The bond allocates $91 million to Bowie; these funds could instead be used to build a new high school in Southeast Austin--s omething that was promised years ago.
There are other questionable things about the bond, but these are just a few things that should be concerning.
If this bond fails, it is not the end of the world. The board can call a bond during any uniform election. The next one is May 2018, for instance.
If it fails in November, I there are several ways it could be improved so it can pass next time:
1. Redraw attendance boundaries to ease overcrowding
2. Add a new southeast high school if they do not want to redraw some boundaries
3. Reevaluate transfer policies
4. Focus on facilities that are in real need—those with FCA scores below 50
5. Invest in student success throughout the district, identify why parents are transferring their children to schools outside their neighborhoods, and ask parents what the district can do to help bring their kids back into their neighborhood schools
6: Target downtown businesses, and find out what can be done and what programs are needed to have their kids attend under-enrolled Central East Austin schools
Finally, please look at the contribution list for this bond. It is corporate heavy. Not all the supporters are corporate people, but there is a lot of corporate investment.
Say Yes to Invest: Support for the AISD Bond is Key to Strong Public Schools for All Students
by Glenn Scott, LUTU member
Some critics of the AISD $1.05 Billion Bond, including members of Left Up To US and activists with Save East Austin Schools, have lodged serious criticisms against the bond, saying that it perpetuates racial inequity and displaces East Side students of color. For these reasons, they are calling for the bond to be defeated in the election November 7.
As a retired union organizer who worked with teachers and school employees for 16 years, and as a public school and social justice advocate my entire adult life, I have considered these arguments. After talking with community stakeholders and the leaders of the teacher union Education Austin, I have concluded that the anti-bond people are missing three crucial dynamics.
Those dynamics are the charter agenda to undercut and weaken our public schools, the dramatic decline of state funding coupled with the Robin Hood inequities that have created an infrastructure funding crisis in AISD, and the gentrification that has ripped at the fabric of East Austin communities of color.
What do charter schools have to do with the bond?
The goal of the charter school movement is to weaken public schools. The charter agenda over the last 25 years is the corporate capitalist agenda to profit from taxpayer-supported public schools. Charter operators often prey on weaker, older schools that struggle with test scores, offering to take them over with promises of turning the schools around academically.
In June 2011, Southwest Key, a charter company, tried unsuccessfully to take over Eastside Memorial HS. Students, parents, teachers and administrators all mobilized to stop the takeover attempt. Through enormous efforts by teachers and their union, students, and all stakeholders, Eastside has improved its academic standing after years of struggling under the rigged system of high-stakes testing.
Charter schools are a huge attack on teacher unionism. Charter schools oppose teacher and school employee rights to a voice in wages and working conditions through their unions. Right-wing backers of charters include Trump’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos announced in late September that the Education Department is spending over $250 million on IDEA and Success, two corporate chain charter companies that operate in Austin and other parts of Texas.
In 2011 IDEA cut a deal with the AISD board to take over Allan elementary on the East Side. There was no recognition of the teachers union, no respect for seniority, and none of the rights to due process that Education Austin had fought for many decades. Art and music were removed from the curriculum. The library was closed. The union and East Side parents fought back. They organized and elected a new school board the following year, and the new Board voted IDEA out. It was a huge victory for union, the students, and the community.
A no vote on the bond is a yes vote for more charters undermining the public schools in AISD. A no vote leaves AISD schools east and west without badly needed infrastructure improvements to attract students and remain viable. A yes vote for the bond is a vote to strengthen the learning environments of all AISD students. These bonds are essential to improve school buildings and technology so that public schools can thrive and thwart the charter-privatizer agenda.
What do declining state funding and Robin Hood have to do with the Bond?
The steep decline in state funding for public schools in Texas has increased funding inequities. The Texas Legislature has dramatically reduced its portion of funding for public schools over the past 25 years. Since the early 1990s, state funds have dropped from near 60% to 44.9% of public school funding.
This decline has shifted the burden by the billions to local school boards and taxpayers. According to a Texas Tribune article by Ross Ramsey last year, this cost shift has drop-kicked over $11.6 billion from the state to school districts over the last 10 years. This has a huge, unequal impact on working-class and modest-income property-tax payers, including renters.
Another aspect of school funding that has a giant negative effect on infrastructure investments is Texas’s Robin Hood funding mechanism. AISD sends hundreds of millions of dollars in recapture each year to redistribute to poor school districts. Next year, AISD will send the state approximately $534 million. This huge annual loss of taxpayer funds deprives AISD public schools of funding for renovation and new construction to keep up with population growth. That is why the bond is such a necessity: bond funds are not subject to recapture. A vote against the bond is a vote to leave AISD students, especially students of color and working- and middle-class students, in inadequate learning environments.
A yes vote is part of a broader fight for equitable funding for students of color. Opponents tell us that the bond disproportionately funds schools west of I-35, where more white students attend. I’m afraid they are missing the bigger picture.
The growth of the Latino population and other populations of color in Austin over the last 20 years has led to communities of color in many parts of north and south Austin west of I-35. Students of color are now the majority of students in as many AISD schools west of I-35 as east of I-35. The bond is not perfect, but it funds badly needed infrastructure and new buildings for many schools with majority students of color in all parts of Austin. Voting no on the bond is NOT the answer.
What does gentrification have to do with the bond?
Opponents have opposed the bond because it calls for closing five schools in East Austin. No members of Education Austin and no East Side parents or community advocates for public schools want to see those schools or any of our under-enrolled schools close. But gentrification and the spread of charters have ground down and destabilized these schools’ communities, leaving them under-enrolled.
Gentrification has been tearing up the East Side and displacing families of color for over 15 years. Despite the efforts of many, we have failed to blunt this capitalist onslaught with all the displacement of communities of color and destabilization that comes with it.
That means the destabilization of East Side schools too. Zavala, Metz, Sanchez, and Brooke are all seriously under-enrolled. School districts do not have the funds to maintain school operating at 50% or less capacity.
Gentrification and charters have displaced East Austin families, destabilized East Austin schools, and led to the proposal to close these schools and sell the land.
Voting no does not save any East Side school from the gentrification wrecking ball or the incursion of charters. What a no vote does is leave East Side public schools more vulnerable than ever to gentrification, charters, under-enrollment, and closure.
To claim, as Save East Austin Schools has done, that a vote against the bond will save the five East Side schools from closure is seriously misleading. So is the claim that a no vote will support more racial equity in funding. Voting no is voting against public investment in our schools at a time when public schools are under attack by right-wing forces.
Vote yes on the school bond to invest in the infrastructure our East Side public schools badly need. These schools, their teachers and their union, parents, principals, and community advocates are fighting to stay alive and thrive in their communities. They need our vote for these investments now.
That is why Education Austin, almost every PTA in AISD, the Travis County Democratic Party, and the Austin Central Labor Council are supporting this bond. It is why I have joined them in supporting the bond as well. I ask for your support too. Vote yes November 7. Vote yes during early voting October 23–November 3.