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Austin's growth causing problems for AISD

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The city of Austin's population is growing rapidly. More than one hundred people move here every day.

As the city that prides itself on being weird grows so do the peculiar problems facing the Austin Independent School District.

Austin is growing steadily on the northwest and southeastern edges, where there are fewer schools to take in a growing number of students in those regions.

"This is an important issue that we need to work on," said Executive Director of Facilities, Paul Turner.

"We do have some hotspots that need attention now and that are going to need additional capacity."

At Blazier Elementary School in southeast Austin overcrowding has become quite a problem. The school was designed for 600 students, but it now has nearly a thousand. School administrators have had to add these portables to keep up with growth.

"There is an impact on the quality of the educational environment if we have overcrowding conditions," said Turner.

Overcrowding is only part of the problem. At 85,000 students district-wide, AISD is not over capacity. Some areas of town have simply become more desirable for families with children. The problem is those same areas don't have big enough schools to handle demand. Some of the schools that used to be full are now what the district calls 'under enrolled'.

"Where we're sort of thinning out if you will is here in the central to east part of the district," said Beth Wilson, Assistant Director of Facilities.

Wilson blames under enrollment on gentrification, the number of families with children is on a slight decline, and also adds charter and private school enrollments are up. Wilson says special courses are being offered at some under enrolled schools to bring students in.

Austin's growth has not been steady and predicting what will happen more than 5 years out is a gamble.

"It's pretty hard to estimate. I mean if we had estimated 10 years out in 2005 we would've messed up pretty badly because of the recession and everything that did."

Turner and Wilson say bond money and building more facilities is the best way to fix the problem. Other options that have been explored include moving school boundaries or busing more students. Neither of which have been popular in the past..

"Often times busing kids far distances to a school that has capacity is just not the best situation," said Wilson.

Both experts agree something must give soon if the problem of overcrowding is going to be solved.

"We've got to focus ourselves back on the basics," said Turner, "Zero in on the highest priority things that we have. Make an ironclad case and I believe that the voters will see that and get behind us the next time we need to take an election to them."

Over the next 10 years, AISD is expected to remain about the same as far as enrollment numbers are concerned. District administrators are currently working on a facilities master plan that is expected to be completed by this summer. That plan will offer suggestions on how to fix overcrowding. At this time, an AISD spokesperson says there are no plans to close any schools.


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