A coalition of education advocates gathered Wednesday in front of Sims Elementary. The school could eventually be closed because of low enrollment. For the group, it’s an example of an unfair disparity prompting the release of a 15-point East Austin Schools Manifesto.
"For too long this District has made its decisions through a fiscal lens, for equity decisions, we believe that should be reversed,” said Ken Zarifis with Education Austin.
The demands include higher pay for teachers who work in lower performing schools, create more culturally responsive programs, eliminate racial disparities in discipline, reduce central office staff and overhaul school boundaries. That could make students who live west of I-35 attend schools in East Austin.
The group also wants charter schools to be scaled back and the hiring of an Equity & Innovation Officer to review all policy decisions.
"We do have a meeting with Dr. Cruz September 18th, and we look forward to that conversation, but at this point we are not taking anything off the table, these are the list of demands that we've presented to the school board and Superintendent and that's where we are going to start the conversation,” said former AISD Trustee Paul Saldana.
Splitting AISD into two different school districts is also being pitched. One district for East Austin and one for the rest of town.
"We're also thinking about the possibility that the district that is predominantly black and brown and lower socioeconomic status, we'd have other kinds of people in it as well, might align with some of the neighboring school districts, so the Del Valle School District which has its own problems, might be willing, but similar kinds of issues, might be willing to take us in, if that looks like after careful study that’s a feasible kind of possibility,” said AISD Trustee Ted Gordon.
A split could reduce how much the state gets from AISD in whats called re-capture revenue. This year AISD is sending almost $700 million in local property tax to help poorer schools in Texas.
Officials with AISD issued a response to the demands. In regards to one of the biggest, breaking up the district were told, that;s actually being looked at.
Chief of Business and Operations for AISD, Nicole Conley Johnson stated: "We are doing an assessment from both a legal and financial perspective and hope to have detailed information for our board soon."
The coalition wants an independent study and threatened walkouts, lawsuits and boycotts if all of the demands are not met.
"Non-action by AISD will have direct consequences,” said coalition member Jim Harrington.
In regards to the manifesto officials at AISD stated in part; " Our values at AISD include equity, diversity and inclusion ... We acknowledge there is still work to do when it comes to equity and we encourage constructive engagement around this issue - All means all."
Members of the coalition acknowledge change may have to come at the ballot box. With that in mind, they promised a campaign to elect their supporters to the school board.
Officials with AISD, in their statement, also pointed out that the district has invested in programs to address equitable outcomes. They include creating early college high schools, expanding job internships. And providing full day Pre-K.