Nov 13, 2023 - News

San Antonio ISD approves school closures

Illustration of hand writing and crossing out open and closed on a chalkboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

San Antonio Independent School District will close 15 schools in the coming years, a decision district officials say is needed due to declining enrollment. Parents and teachers criticized the plan as inequitable.

Why it matters: The closures affect primarily Hispanic families on the near East, West and South sides of the city, where families tend to have lower incomes.

The latest: The Board of Trustees approved the closure plan in a 5-2 vote Monday night. Trustees Sarah Sorensen and Stephanie Torres voted against the plan after two failed attempts to keep some schools off the closure list.

  • Officials made adjustments to the plan, released Friday, that saved four elementary schools initially suggested for closure. Collins Garden, Pershing, Ogden and Riverside Park elementary schools will remain open.
  • Green Elementary School is newly slated for closure, with students going to Riverside Park.
  • The closures of Baskin Elementary School and Carroll Early Childhood Education Center will be delayed until improvements are finished at receiving schools.

Details: Collins Garden had the highest enrollment of any school in the original closure recommendation. Pershing, in Government Hill on the East Side, will remain open to keep space in a growing neighborhood.

What they're saying: SAISD is facing an inequitable distribution of resources that's harming the quality of students' education, superintendent Jaime Aquino says.

  • "I have been amazed at the little public outrage at the inequities in the system and our inability to deliver," Aquino says.

Of note: Over two hours of public comment, many speakers pointed to a finding in the first phase of an equity audit commissioned by SAISD — that prior district school closures did not lead to better educational outcomes, and in some cases, students performed worse.

  • Speakers said the district needed more time to consider the audit, released publicly on Friday.
  • The audit also found that closures as proposed would result in at least one new "school desert" within SAISD, an area that would be more than 1 mile from the nearest elementary school.

The San Antonio Alliance, the union representing teachers and support staff in SAISD, requested an equity audit in the spring, president Alejandra Lopez tells Axios.

  • She says the board could have delayed its decision to allow trustees to be better informed by the audit's findings.

Catch up fast: Declining birth rates and a lack of affordable housing in San Antonio's urban core have led to lower enrollments in SAISD. The district began examining closures over the summer and released a proposal in September to close 19 schools.

  • Officials adjusted that proposal ahead of Monday's board meeting after receiving feedback at neighborhood meetings.

By the numbers: SAISD enrollment has fallen from around 53,000 in 2016 to around 45,000 this year.

State of play: Parents and teachers are concerned school closures will disrupt teachers' and students' relationships, result in larger class sizes and negatively affect special education and bilingual and mental health services.

  • But district officials believe concentrating resources in fewer schools will improve those areas of concern as the district spends less money on buildings. They say average class sizes should remain about the same, and SAISD plans to keep teachers.

Zoom in: Multiple parents from Lamar Elementary School in Mahncke Park argued to keep their school open, some wearing blue shirts that read "Lamar never quits."

  • Parents worry their children's academic performance will suffer, Shannon Oster-Gabrielson, parent of two children at Lamar, tells Axios.
  • When Lamar closes, she is unsure whether she will keep her children enrolled in SAISD — a sentiment other parents have echoed.
  • "My priority is to stay in the district, but they're making it really hard," Oster-Gabrielson tells Axios.

Zoom out: Other San Antonio-area districts facing declining enrollment have opted to close schools. The Edgewood ISD Board will vote Tuesday on a recommendation to close two schools.

What's next: The district will determine what happens to vacant school buildings after future community engagement meetings.

  • Officials plan to study campus conditions and capacity at least every five years, which could lead to additional school closure recommendations.

The bottom line: "The district needs to make some deep commitments and guarantees to ensure that things will be better for children if their schools close," researcher Terrance Green, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote in the equity audit.


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