Brownsville ISD considers consolidation of three pairs of schools

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Judy Moreno, backed by other parents from Del Castillo Elementary, speaks Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, during a school consolidation meeting. BISD is considering consolidation of three pairs of elementary schools, including Cormack and Castaneda, Garza and Southmost and Del Castillo and Morningside. (Courtesy: Brownsville ISD/YouTube)

Brownsville ISD began consideration of a plan to combine three pairs of elementary schools in the Southmost area: Cromack and Castaneda, Garza and Southmost and Del Castillo and Morningside.

The district outlined the plan on Wednesday, then took questions from parents in the central administration boardroom on Price Road in the first of several meetings with parents from the schools.

The timeline for the project proposes approval by the BISD Board of Trustees on April 19. In between, the board and interim Superintendent Jesus H. Chavez will meet with parents from each of the schools involved, BISD said at the meeting.

“That is the target date for the board to make a decision,” Chavez said. “The main thing is no decision has been made, so at the end of the day on April 19, the board may decide to do one consolidation, two or three, or none at all.”

Chavez also took pains to reassure parents that teachers would follow any moving students to their new school and that consolidation would be accomplished without any BISD employee losing their job.

“What we have said throughout our budget process is that everyone who currently works with us will continue to have a job with us. If there is indeed a consolidation, then we will have some excess individuals, but we will be absorbing those through attrition,” Chavez said at the outset.

“We have about an 8% attrition rate. We will find a place for you to continue to assist our students in this great district. So I don’t want employees out there to think there will not be a job,” he said.

BISD’s budget crunch is due to multiple factors, but two main ones falling at the same time, Chavez has said:

>> The Legislature’s well publicized refusal, under pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott about private school vouchers, to grant funds to public education even though Texas is sitting a budget surplus of more than $31 billion, and

>> A state law that requires the state comptroller to do a property value study. Cameron County came up randomly this year, and the state’s values “came way higher than what our local values are, and as a result of that, the state took away $14 million,” he said.

Chavez said BISD is targeting a $20 million reduction in expenses, but the use of $8 million in fund balance should reduce the number to $12 million.

The plan anticipates more than $3 million in combined savings at the three schools by consolidating operations: $1.23 million at Cromack/Casteneda, $883,445 at Garza/Southmost and $1.36 million at Del Castillo/Morningside.

During the presentation, Deputy Superintendent Nellie Cantu said the funds could be reallocated to enhance curriculum at the consolidated schools. Potentially, one or more of them could re-brand as a fine arts or STEM academy or in another specialty area so that in the end students would have more programs to choose from than at their original school.

After the plan had been presented, 16 parents who signed up were given three minutes each to make comments about what they had heard.

Kim Cromack speaks Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, during a school consolidation meeting. BISD is considering consolidation of three pairs of elementary schools, including Cormack and Castaneda, Garza and Southmost and Del Castillo and Morningside. (Courtesy: Brownsville ISD/YouTube)

Kim Cromack, whose father and uncle farmed in the Southmost area around the time Cromack Elementary was built in 1954, spoke first.

“They gave or sold very cheaply the land that Cromack Elementary sits on, and it became a great school. It housed, historically, the first baby boomers, who were now 6 and 7 years old after World War II. So it was one of the historic schools in that time as Brownsville grew a little after the war was over,” he said.

Cromack, who himself attended Sharp Elementary, said he well understood the fact that things change over time, including schools.

“I’m coming here more to argue more for the Garzas, the Del Castillos, that those names don’t disappear from BISD history. …Don’t forget us. There’s other schools to be named, there’s little parks to be named, maybe a road to be named, whatever it is, but don’t forget the Cromacks,” he said.

Former BISD Trustee Minerva M. Pena also spoke, in English and Spanish so everyone understood, saying now is not the time to be closing schools.

“2024 is a different year from the past, people are completely different. Children are completely different,” Pena said.

“The classes need to be smaller for the children who are living in high poverty levels. …I have noticed that when they close a school and brought them to another school, from Victoria (Heights) to another school, that school’s math and science scores dropped… This is not the time to close those schools. The kids are doing fabulous there,” she said.

Judy Moreno, who said she is “the mother of four amazing kids who have already graduated from BISD and gone on to conquer the world, and two more currently enrolled in BISD,” spoke next.

Moreno, spoke on behalf of Del Castillo Elementary parents, whose students would move to nearby Morningside Elementary under the proposed consolidation.

“We are prepared to help our institution in various ways. We were told funding is an issue and so is enrollment. We as parents are prepared to recruit new students to our campus and to help bring back students to our campus, bring back those we have lost to charter schools,” Moreno said, backed by other parents at the lectern.

“If another school is closed due to proximity of other schools along Southmost, we ask that those students be brought to Del Castillo to help increase the enrollment” (rather than spend the money for Sams Stadium re-pavement and other projects.)

“We are lucky to be in the background of a community college and a university that we’ve already partnered with on so many projects. Could we not seek their assistance with some of the after-school tutoring programs? This past year, Del Castillo had a lot more programs that were available to the students for after-school care. This year some of them were cut,” Moreno said.