U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett landed in a Feb. 16 opinion column by Gail Collins of The New York Times that questioned draft plans by the GOP-led Texas Legislature not to hike state education aid.
"In Austin," Collins quoted the Austin Democrat saying, "I’ve got half-a-dozen or more schools on a list to be closed — one of which I presented a federal blue-ribbon award to for excellence. And several hundred school personnel on the list for possible terminations."
We wondered if Doggett accurately summarized the situation.
Doggett’s spokeswoman, Sarah Dohl, told us by e-mail that Doggett based his comment on Austin American-Statesman news reports on a district task force’s recommendations about closing schools and the district’s recent announcement that it’s considering employee layoffs as part of an array of budget cuts.
Doggett’s "blue-ribbon" reference, Dohl said, was to South Austin’s Zilker Elementary. We found a May 1999 Statesman story stating that Zilker was among three district schools that year to win the honor from the U.S. Department of Education. The story says Doggett was expected to attend the award ceremony. It quotes then-Education Secretary Richard Riley saying: "These schools are examples of the good things happening in education nationwide."
Next, we turned to the Statesman’s coverage of school closure recommendations by the Austin district’s volunteer facilities task force. According to a Feb. 10 story, the task force in January specified nine schools, including Zilker, that could be closed "for efficiency’s sake." However, the story says, the task force’s recommendations to the school board would not name particular schools, instead referring to areas of the city where schools could be closed in 2012-13 and 2013-14.
A link on the Statesman site led us to a Feb. 9 draft version of the task force’s district facility master plan, which urges consideration of school closures "only after all other alternatives and options, both programmatic and facilities use, have been thoroughly examined and discussed with the affected communities."
No individual schools are named, but there are regional suggestions for consolidating/closing a middle school in Northeast Austin; four elementary schools in "Central East Austin"; three elementary schools in Central Austin; and one elementary school in South Austin.
We called the district, whose spokesman, Andy Welch, cautioned that the district has no school-closing schedule and said its facility task force won’t present its final report until March. "So there is no list" of schools to be closed, Welch said.
Still, didn’t the names of nine schools get floated for possibly closing? "Can’t deny that," Welch said.
After he noted that some of the school district is outside Doggett’s House district, we ran the addresses of the schools named for possible closure through the Texas Legislative Council’s "Who Represents Me?" web feature. Eight are in Doggett’s district; Pease Elementary is in San Antonio Rep. Lamar Smith’s district.
Dohl of Doggett’s office said by e-mail that the congressman was aware of the updated task force report--and that it doesn’t specify individual schools to possibly close. But, Dohl said, "the school closure list seems to still be a very real issue" and Doggett believes school closures should be avoided.
All told, Doggett’s comment accurately refers to Zilker Elementary and possible district layoffs. At the time he spoke, though, the task force that aired school closing suggestions had backed off the specifics. And it's not certain any schools are to be closed.
We rate Doggett’s statement Mostly True.