AUSTIN: 12 Schools Face Closure as Gentrification Drives Lower Enrollment Numbers

Photo: The AISD board meets on September 9 to go over the proposed closures of 12 schools.

By Walter Villarreal and David Martinez

On Monday night, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) board of trustees went over plans to shut down 12 public schools based on recommendations from the district released last Friday. AISD continues to face declining enrollment primarily due to the ongoing gentrification of Austin which pushes working class families and lower sections of the masses out of the city limits.

The plan calls for the closure of ten elementary schools and two middle schools, displacing their students and forcing them to find new schools. The district is touting $240 million in deferred maintenance savings, which they say they will redirect to improve programming at the remaining schools.

Newly hired Chief Equity Officer, Dr. Stephanie Hawley, kicked off the board meeting by attempting to acknowledge the history of racism in the district. She claimed the school changes were the first of their kind in the state and possibly the country aimed at directly interrupting the legacy of “white supremacy.”

While AISD is purposely trying to distribute the school closures across the city, rather than primarily in oppressed nations neighborhoods as they have historically done, it is estimated that 75% of the students impacted by the proposed changes are from poor families. In Austin, this also means disproportionately oppressed nations Chicanos, Black people, and immigrants, primarily from the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin-America.

As the news of the closures begins to reverberate, the responses range from outrage to resignation. More affluent and predominantly white populations want to preserve niche programming such as a dual-language program at Ridgetop elementary. Working-class and oppressed nations people see the school closures as an extension of the long history of discrimination and the cutting off resources to their communities, with some expressing resignation to the realities of years of neglect. However, as the public meetings are held closer to the proletarian neighborhoods the oppressed masses will more readily confront the school bureacrats with their anger.

The mass rumbling of discontent has brought greater efforts by the bourgeois state to curtail political dissent. Individuals were not allowed to hold posters and signs during the televised board meeting, relegating this long-held practice of basic democratic rights to the back of the room and out of the line of site of the cameras.

School Superintendent Paul Cruz stated that, “the status quo will not be an option as we try to push as many students as we can into 21st Century facilities.”  This false promise of improved technology for students ignores the fact that many of the working-class families will not be able to take advantage of improvements as they struggle against the rising rents that cause school closures in the first place.

In addition, technology companies like Google and Oracle who profit from lucrative school contracts are simultaneously adding to the displacement of working class and oppressed nations people as they expand operations in popular tech hubs like Austin. Their growing offices and campuses drive the migration of wealthy tech workers into the city, which the capitalist market accommodates by evicting poor tenants or demolishing existing low-rent housing, replacing them with luxury developments.

Students of working-class families are not the only ones impacted by these capitalist processes – AISD staff, from custodians to teachers, can rarely live in the neighborhoods of the schools where they work. Chief Financial Officer, Nicole Conley Johnson, admitted that, “many teachers cannot afford to live in the communities they serve.”

AISD schools in the central city occupy some of the most valuable land in terms of the potential tax revenue, especially if the land is redeveloped and rezoned for private purposes following closures. In imperialist countries where much of the major industry and manufacturing has been exported to the third world, real estate has become one of the prime areas of investment and speculation, leading to aggressive displacement of workers who inhabited the central cities for generations.

The district and city officials tout plans to repurpose campuses for affordable housing targeting teachers and families, but this means putting trust in the very developers and policymakers at city hall, like Mayor Steve Adler, who have helped create the problem in the first place. Regardless of the empty words of school district bureaucrats, investors will be salivating over the possibility of acquiring these properties and developing them for maximum profit.

The education system under capitalism will never function to serve the working class or lift the masses out of poverty. It exists to reinforce existing class and social relations, and these school closures only make that clearer. As parents, teachers, and students see how this system serves the ruling class, they will readily join the efforts to organize for revolution in order to ensure the youth of the future are no longer at the mercy of capitalist exploitation.