SAISD superintendent reveals plans to send students to other schools if Travis closes.
By Regis L. Roberts
Frustration abounded from a diverse crowd of parents and students in the Travis Elementary gymnasium during Monday’s community meeting to discuss school closures.
Custodial staff brought in more chairs when they saw how many people were pouring in, but it was still not enough for the standing-room-only crowd of about 300 people.
Dr. Robert Durón, San Antonio Independent School District superintendent, said the proposed closures of six SAISD schools was not something he wanted to do.
“Closing a school is emotional, and it should be,” Durón said.
Although going through with the plan to close schools is not popular, he said it is the right thing to do.
“I am convinced in my heart, I’m convinced in my mind that if this does not lead to improving the district for all students in the district, I would not be here,” he said.
Closing Travis, along with Bowie Elementary, Cooper and Mann middle schools and Pfeiffer and Carroll academies, were indeed unpopular among the audience in the packed gym, who were growing visibly frustrated as Durón laid out the justification for closure.
While Durón and associate Superintendent Sylvia De La Peña presented slides outlining the poor enrollment, lack of educational opportunities for students and falling budgets as justification, they were careful not to use the word “closure,” instead preferring “consolidation.”
As it stands now, the plan is to close Travis and have the students there attend Austin Academy, Beacon Hill or Cotton elementary schools.
De La Peña said Travis has 289 students compared with its capacity of 462 students.
Durón said there are fewer elementary-age children living in the neighborhoods surrounding Travis, contributing to the low enrollment
De La Peña said transporting students from Travis to the three other SAISD schools will bring those schools closer to being filled to capacity, thus helping with the problem of low enrollment.
“We know that transportation is a critical question for parents,” she said.
Transportation from Travis to Beacon Hill will include two routes with six and seven neighborhood stops.
More stops will ensure that students are not crossing major roads like San Pedro Avenue.
Transportation from Travis to Cotton and Austin Academy will include one new route each.
The 2007-08 budget for SAISD is $506.8 million, and Durón said lack of students hurts the district’s budget.
The school’s budgetary problems translate to decreased opportunities for students, he said.
Travis has only one part-time librarian and one part-time music teacher, he said.
Once the presentation ended, parents and students of Travis had their turn to speak — and they were not putting up with any of what the presenters were saying.
Nellie Shannon, a parent of two children attending Travis, said the schools that will absorb Travis students are not a good environment for her kids.
She said she has looked at the other schools in the district and was not satisfied with the lack of playgrounds and graffiti she has found at those schools. She did not like that Cotton did not have any green space for the students to play.
“I don’t want anybody’s children to go to a place where there’s not a nice playground,” she said. “We don’t have graffiti in our neighborhood.”
When she made the point that small class sizes benefit minority students, her comments were met with thunderous applause, cheers and hollers.
She said that even though she is a strong supporter of public schools, she would rather put her children in a private school than have them transferred.
Josephine De Leon, a mother of nine children, six of whom have gone to Travis, including 7-year-old twins who are currently enrolled, was not impressed with the district’s statistics justifying school closures.
How, she asked, were her kids and other students going to understand why their beloved school was closing?
“Statistics are great for us, but how are we going to explain statistics to them?” she said.
Frank Valdez, who has one 5-year-old daughter attending Travis, was particularly worried about his daughter arriving at her new school safely.
“I think that one of the biggest problems with the city of San Antonio is we have too many damn school districts,” he said, followed by approving applause.
A popular question was why Travis and the five other schools were being closed and not other SAISD schools.
De La Peña and Durón responded by stressing the criteria used when selecting schools to close, including enrollment, elective choices and building conditions.
Faye Gonzalez, assistant to the superintendent, said when Durón talked about building conditions, he did not mean that a building is run down or unsuited for use.
The building at Beacon Hill was constructed in 1999 and has a capability of 650, she said.
She said the choice is like picking a car to sell.
One car may be in much better condition than the other, not to say that the other car is in bad shape, she said.
Another concern was whether the teachers the children liked and knew were going to stay at the district.
The hope was that the faculty and staff would move to one of the absorbing schools, Durón said.