AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees approved the appointment of an advisor to lead the long-term facility plan over the next few years of district updates.
The ultimate goal is to push ahead with a new election of taxpayer bonds in November 2022.
The DLR Group won the bid with an offer that is expected to cost the district 1.9 million US dollars. The company will help manage data and further develop the framework outlined designed to propel the district for facility improvements and growth in academics, athletics, security, transportation, food services, technology and finance.
A draft of the proposed timetable that ultimately led to a bond election in November 2022. (Courtesy Austin ISD)
But there are still many people in Austin who feel the district still has work to do to rebuild trust before a bond election can take place.
KXAN education reporter Alex Caprariello met with teachers, parents, community lawyers, architects, and former trustees to understand the community’s concerns with plans for the district’s growth. Many said they were still hurt over the way the 2017 bond was rushed and the final school closings and consolidations in 2019.
“The school district needs to understand how much distrust there is and how much it takes to rebuild that trust,” said Cuitlahuac Guerra-Mojarro, teacher, father and community leader.
“My kids regularly go to middle school that doesn’t have adequate HVAC service. Was that  Bond should fix that? Probably. Before that, should binding fix the problem? Probably, ”said Emily Sawyer, parents of five AISD children.
“[Does the district] believe our low-income minority community should trust AISD as schools east of I-35 have been sold in the past? Most closings and consolidations have been tied to black and brown schools, and if you look at the investments made in the past bond elections, there has historically been an increasing amount of financial investment for the schools west of I-35, ”said Paul Saldana, a former AISD- Trustee.
These community stakeholders want assurances from the district to move forward with a long-term facility plan and ultimately a 2022 bond.
Some of the suggestions include ensuring that a large number of community voices are present at the decision-making table and actively heard. Another reason was that the architects of the plan had previously completed well-thought-out anti-racist justice training. Finally, the educational specifications, known as ed specs, which are used to determine which facilities are improved, will be changed to ensure equity in all schools.
“If people want to live in a lively, healthy city, they need lively, healthy school systems. And that means focusing on the children who will be in these buildings day in and day out and making sure that the facilities we have and the connections we have established support this goal of educating all children, ”said Guerra -Mojarro.
The district is already promising many of these things.
Beth Wilson, executive director of planning and asset management at AISD, said the DLR group is highly skilled and has a dedicated stock subcontractor on the team. The new tagline for the updated long-term facilities plan is Equity by Design, which promises to address the concerns of historically marginalized communities.
“We have not adequately addressed the concerns of our constituents or our communities,” said Wilson of the district’s failures in 2017 and 2019. “We have learned a lot from this commitment and we want to improve it.”
Wilson said that all members, staff and advisors will be required to undergo “training on equity, cultural literacy and inclusivity” before decisions are made. Wilson also announced that the ed specs are currently under review. The district is currently working with campus administrators to see how this process can be improved. Wilson hopes to have the revised specifications submitted to the Board of Trustees for approval by fall.
“We learned a few things along the way,” said Wilson of the 2017 bond. “We learned some things that worked for schools that we want to move forward, and we learned some things that didn’t work so well that we want to rethink it. “
Wilson hopes some of these steps will calm the community down and help rebuild the trust that has been lost. KXAN community members spoke to hope that these goals would be more than just promises.
“The district needs to reassign itself and demonstrate its willingness to be active listeners and active learners, specifically listening to communities historically marginalized by AISD,” Saldana said.
Reach out to KXAN’s education reporter Alex Caprariello by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.