Thursday, May 14, 2009
EPISD Superintendent Had Decided to Close Houston Elementary Before Meeting with Public
If there was one loud and clear message from last night's public meeting between the Superintendent of the El Paso School District and the public, it was this: Dr. Lorenzo Garcia had already decided to close Houston Elementary long before he met with nearly 250 parents, teachers and students last evening. His excuse for not revealing his plans sooner: the TAKS tests. He didn't want to stress out staff or students or parents any more than they already were.
I have had experience with this kind of "decision-making" before. It was the modus operandi of the school district Superintendent of the Washington State school district where my children went to school. The decision is made by the "experts". A public meeting is scheduled just about the time that it is too late to reverse the decision. The decision is announced and the district gets to say that it consulted with the public. It's a sham and a deception.
The district may be right. It may be better financially and educationally to consolidate schools and to prefer a newer school (Paul Moreno) over a school such as Houston with repair issues. Doing so may utilize education resources more efficiently. It may mean that way down the line taxes will not be increased - although it seemed disingenuous for Dr. Garcia to mention persistently raising taxes as a kind of threat when the process to do so takes quite a long time and can't be done without the State of Texas raising the allowable tax ceiling.
Teachers and others took issue with the district's arguments. Smaller is better, some maintained. The study that the district relied on for consolidation is out of date (1987) and it does not consider minority populations. Representative Byrd got loud applause when she suggested that Garcia had made this decision without a plan in place. (You can read Representative Byrd's open letter to the school board.)
Indeed, Garcia said that the school could be used for other instructional uses. He explained what he meant during a question and answer period. He wants to turn Houston Elementary into an alternative high school - perhaps a night school in an effort to stem the dropout rate. Garcia also mentioned using Houston for office space since the Airport was not renewing the lease on school district offices on Boeing in 2013 - four years from now. When asked about whether the closing of the school would contribute to blight, Garcia said that, as soon as the Board of Trustees votes to close it, he and his staff will begin studying what to do with it.
Byrd is right. There is no plan going forward.
Lynn Coyle, the President of our Association, asked whether the school could attract more people if it had a dual-language program. Julie Rutledge, the President of the Manhattan Heights Association, pointed out that a number of students in the neighborhood don't attend EPISD schools. She asked, "What can we do to recruit them."
A petition against closing the school signed by 50 Houston Elementary staff members and teachers was presented. One child asked, "What's wrong with being old?" Another said, "Don't do this."
School Trustee Carlos Flores indicated that it may not be a done deal when the Board votes. He suggested that the enthusiasm of the audience should be taken into account.
One thing is for sure. Right or wrong about the decision, Garcia has lost any credibility that he may have had with the community. Imposition of policy prior to public hearings is just plain arrogant.
Another meeting about the closing will be held on May 27th at 6 p.m. at the Houston auditorium.
Be sure you read Lisa piece on the closure in today's Newspaper Tree: Houston elementary school on the chopping block.