From Texas Public Radio:
Trustees of the San Antonio Independent School District faced a packed board room of upset families and staff Monday night, gathered to ask the board to reconsider a historic proposal to close 15 schools.
Although SAISD held dozens of community meetings on the plan to consolidate schools between August and November, many of the nearly 60 speakers said they felt administrators rushed the process and didn’t truly hear them.
Several said they had lost trust in district leadership. That distrust and frustration was exacerbated Monday when SAISD gave speakers a minute and a half to speak and cut off their mic when they exceeded the time limit.
“The question on my mind now is whether or not this is a rubber stamp board. To put it another way. Does this board believe democracy ends on the ballot or does it have a responsibility to respond to community outrage,” said Jake Tucker, who lives in the neighborhood of Highland Park Elementary. “There’s no conceivable way that this board can vote for a district plan believing that they have the support or confidence of the communities you allegedly serve.”
Parents and community members from many different schools attended the meeting, but the largest and most visible group came from Lamar Elementary.
“If I were you and I were sitting here in front of this huge group of people knowing that I’m about to vote yes on this proposal, I would feel ashamed,” said Lamar parent Ronni Gura Sadovsky. “Coming here and cutting people’s mics? You ought to stay late. You ought to listen to every single person, every word they want to say to you before you close their school. I would be ashamed that the equity audit that was requested at the beginning of this process came out days ago only in English.”
After two hours of passionate, angry and sometimes tearful pleas to keep schools open — and a three-hour discussion between district administrators and trustees — the SAISD board approved the final consolidation package as recommended by district leaders in a 5 to 2 vote.
Sarah Sorensen and Stephanie Torres voted against the measure. The two attempted to amend the package twice to reduce the number of school closures, but both amendments failed. Sorensen first suggested keeping six more elementary schools open: Lamar, Douglass, Miller, Highland Park, Storm, and Baskin. When that failed in a 5-2 vote, she suggested pulling just Lamar and Storm, but that failed too.
“I feel like we just sat through a bunch of questions that should have been asked in July and not the night of the vote, which just reiterates my point that this process was rushed, completed before key data was available, like the equity audit,” Sorensen said.
“I want to point out that members of this board voted to reopen closed campuses with new campuses that have taken the students out of our neighborhoods,” she said. “If those campuses had remained closed, we could have started new school models in the open campuses. We would not be having this situation.”
The proposal approved by the board will close 15 of the district’s 98 schools and cut the number of campuses SAISD operates by 16%. Thirteen of the 15 schools on the closure list will cease operations at the end of the current school year. The remaining two schools, Baskin Elementary and Carroll Early Childhood Center, will close once renovations are complete at the schools selected to absorb their students.
All told, the changes approved by the board will impact more than 40% of the district’s schools, including schools receiving more students, relocating, or changing their grade configuration.
SAISD trustees first voted to explore consolidating schools in June in order to make better use of their financial resources after decades of declining enrollment.
In 2003, SAISD had nearly 57,000 students. Today, it has less than 45,000. According to the district’s analysis, birth rates and housing patterns predict enrollment will continue to decline in the future.
Three other San Antonio districts with declining enrollment have also considered closing schools this year. South San and Harlandale voted to close schools at the end of last school year, and Edgewood trustees will vote on proposed school closures Tuesday.
Alicia Sebastian represents single-member district 2 on the historically Black East Side, which has more schools closing than any other part of the district. She said she supported the proposal to close 15 schools, including 5 in her single-member district, because she believes it will give the remaining schools the resources they need for students to excel academically.
“It is no secret that I represent a district, district 2, that has been underrepresented, misrepresented, and frankly cast aside for decades,” Sebastian said. “My schools are the schools and the students who live in high poverty. They are the ones that people look down at and say they will never send their children to.”
“For me, this is about equity. Every student in every one of our schools should be valued and supported as the same. And the reality is they are not,” Sebastian added. “We don’t need another study, we don’t need another survey. We don’t need a demographer to tell us that Black students are failing and have been for decades.”
SAISD administrators originally recommended closing 19 schools in September, but after listening to community feedback they reduced the number of schools recommended for closure down to 15.
Four elementary schools originally on the closure list — Pershing, Collins Garden, Riverside Park, and Ogden — will now remain open. Depending on the outcome of community discussions with Rodriguez Montessori, the Montessori school could be moved to Ogden, where Ogden and Rodriguez would operate as separate schools sharing one building.
One issue brought up by many of the public speakers was the lack of time allowed for the community and district to absorb and respond to an external equity report published on the SAISD website three days ago. The report, compiled in less than a month by a team led by UT-Austin professor Terrance Green, found that previous SAISD school closures did not improve student outcomes and could create a “school desert” attendance zone.
Final school consolidation list
1. Lamar Elementary
2. Carroll Early Childhood Center (delayed)
3. Douglass Elementary
4. Gates Elementary
5. Miller Elementary
6. Tynan Early Childhood Center
7. Forbes Elementary
8. Foster Elementary
9. Highland Park Elementary
10. Knox Early Childhood Center
11. Lowell Middle School
12. Storm Elementary
13. Baskin Elementary (delayed)
14. Huppertz Elementary
15. Nelson Early Childhood Center
1. Ogden Elementary (pending outcome of community discussion)
2. Rodriguez Montessori (pending outcome of community discussion)
3. CAST Med (with another undecided CAST school)
Steele Montessori (to an undecided location)
1. Gonzales Early Childhood Center
2. Green Elementary
3. Beacon Hill Academy
1. Washington Elementary
2. Japhet Academy
Schools receiving students from closed schools:
1. M.L. King Academy
2. Smith Elementary
3. Riverside Park Elementary
4. Bonham Academy
5. Maverick Elementary
6. Schenck Elementary
7. Ball Elementary
8. Highland Hills Elementary
9. Cotton Academy
10. Twain Dual Language Academy
11. Herff Elementary
12. Woodlawn Hills Elementary
13. Fenwick Academy
14. Hot Wells Middle School
15. Kelly Elementary
16. Hawthorne Academy
17. Sarah King Elementary
18. Barkley-Ruiz Elementary
19. Davis Middle School