Waco ISD faces uncertainty

Due to budget issues within the school district, A.J. Moore Academy is expected to be consolidated with University High School after the end of this academic year.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Amanda Thomas

Tonight at 8 p.m., KWBU-FM will broadcast the last pre-recorded public forum on the potential school closings in the Waco Independent School District. Forums were held Jan. 5-12 to garner community feedback on the potential closures, which are because of an anticipated $3.4 million loss in state revenue. The school district is looking to combat the budget shortfall and save money by closing down schools that are under-capacity, according to wacoisd.org.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, WISD will air a one-hour conversation with Bonny Cain, W.I.S.D. superintendent, who will answer questions from the Waco community. Citizens can submit their questions to the KWBU radio station until 10 a.m. Monday.

“We lose money every day without having schools at full capacity,” Cain said. “What’s hurting us is money in the buildings.”

In order for a school to stay within budget, its capacity needs to be at least 85 percent. At any rate less than 85 percent, the school begins to lose money. Right now, the school district is only at 72 percent capacity, she said.

According to wacoisd.org, school districts that are losing money usually begin to cut funds from three areas: institutional programs, Human Resources and Facilities. Since the school district has already reduced personnel by $2 million in order to create a balanced budget, they are now looking to make reductions in other ways that will not take funding from educational programs, the website stated.

In September, Cain presented possible solutions to the school board. After revisions, two different options were created — the Orange Option and the Green Option.

Both the Orange and Green Options would include changes such as combining Alta Vista Montessori and Lake Waco Montessori schools, and closing the A.J. Moore Academy building, Sul Ross Elementary School and North Waco Elementary School.

The Orange option would keep Viking Hills Elementary School and Meadowbrook Elementary School open, while changing the grade levels offered at each school.

The Green Option would also close Viking Hills Elementary and Meadowbrook Elementary, as well as changing Alta Vista Elementary School to “a neighborhood attendance zone elementary school,” according to wacoisd.org.

“Either one will work,” Cain said of the two options. “I wouldn’t take a plan to the board if I didn’t like it.”

In order to get the community’s input, the Waco ISD board held the public forums, which were mediated by the League of Women Voters. The forums gave the board a chance to elaborate on the Green Option and the Orange Option, and also to hear proposals from the community to develop another option.

A.J. Moore Academy graduate James Y. Rauhut founded “Waco for A.J Moore,” a group of community members who want A.J. Moore to stay open. The group presented the Blue Proposal, which would keep the school open and allow the sixth and eighth grade students from G.W. Carver Academy to become a part of A.J. Moore Academy.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, parents, students, teachers, faculty and other Waco community members filled the A.J. Moore auditorium and came prepared with questions, comments, concerns and suggestions.

“This school has helped my son like school. Without this school, my son will drop out,” Micheal Parker, a parent of an A.J. Moore student, said. “Everything I have worked for — everything all of the parents here have worked for — will be lost, and we are not leaving without a battle.”

A.J. Moore students also approached the board with questions, comments and concerns. Nelly Hummel, a senior who brought a peer-leadership program from her old school in California to A.J. Moore, asked whether her program would stillbe available if the school was consolidated. The program aims to help the student body gain closer relationships with each other. Cain then assured the students at the town meeting that the programs at A.J. Moore would be implemented at University High School.

The latest any option can be chosen is Feb. 23; suggestions are still being accepted. Immediately after the decision is made, the district will rezone. By March 29, letters will be sent to parents and guardians informing them of the rezoning and where their child will be attending school. Teachers will be given a survey with questions such as “What is your first choice school?”, “What grade would you like to teach?” and “What subject would you like to teach?”

“We will try to get teachers their first choice,” Cain said.

After all the final decisions have been made, Cain would like to hold an event at the remaining schools to give new students and parents an opportunity to tour the school and meet with their new principal, teachers and faculty.

“We will make sure the students become familiar with their new school,” Cain said.