A fight over an unpopular school rezoning plan that will impact hundreds of Allen elementary students and their families ended with one trustee resigning over how the district handled the process.
Allen ISD’s overall enrollment growth is less than 1 percent, leaving the district with 3,000 open elementary school seats that aren’t bringing in state-allocated revenue.
Most of the empty seats are on the city’s east side, where student enrollment is declining at several elementary schools. At the same time, enrollment numbers at elementary campuses on the west side are nearing full capacity.
District officials said their plans to rezone students and repurpose two elementary schools on the east side (Anderson and Rountree) are urgently needed to address those imbalances, as well as to reduce the district’s $5 million budget deficit and comply with a state-mandated transition to full-day prekindergarten.
Many Allen families disagreed.
For weeks, they’ve been pleading with district officials to re-examine the data and consider alternative plans that are less disruptive and don’t disproportionately impact one area of the community.
Just prior to Monday’s vote, dozens of parents and community members used the time allotted for public comments to once again tell the board why they opposed the proposed plans.
Several pointed out that the zoning changes are “clearly and gravely unfair” and perpetuate the divide between East and West Allen by favoring upper-income residents on the west side and burdening apartment dwellers and lower-income residents on the east side.
According to one mom, just 9 percent of all students rezoned under the district’s plans are from the west side.
“If you vote yes, it means you don’t care,” she told the trustees. “Community goes both ways. If you don’t care about us and our community, why should we care about you?”
Allen resident Paula Cheek said the redistricting plan is “a temporary fix that will need a do-over when thousands of new apartments are built.”
Parents also noted several logistical issues with the plan.
Not only would the proposed attendance zones force many young students onto dangerous walking paths across busy streets, but converting Anderson to an early childhood campus housing all of the district’s pre-K classes would be a “nightmare” for moms with both pre-K and elementary students.
“We’re at a crossroads,” said one Allen dad. “There’s still time to figure out a better plan.”
Several residents called on trustees to vote independently, based on their individual assessments of the plan and residents’ input, rather than voting in lockstep based on pressure from the administration.
“The district answers to you [the board], not the other way around,” said an opponent of the proposed rezoning plan.
Allen mom Michelle Boren, who helped organize a group of Anderson and Rountree families opposed to the district’s proposal, accused trustees of hiding behind the excuse of presenting a “united front and united vote.”
One of you stated that you must vote united to always appear as a united Team of Eight. Others have stated that is not the case, but it’s more of a preference by the school board, particularly our school board president. …
Several of you challenged me to present facts and data if I didn’t like this proposal. I accepted your challenge, and along the way I found a collective group of amazing parents with some remarkable professions and talents that helped me rise to this challenge. We have given you a ton of data and even more facts. Now it is your turn to consider that information.
“If you’ve listened to our facts and data, then you will vote opposed to this proposal because you know there are too many holes in it and the community doesn’t want it,” she said.
Later in the meeting, Deputy Superintendent Daniel Pitcock reviewed the proposal with the board, adding updated zoning maps that displaced fewer students than the previously proposed boundary adjustments.
Board members then discussed the plan.
That’s when trustee Vatsa Ramanathan confirmed a troubling rumor that had circulated within the community.
“School board members were told not to talk to parents,” he said. “The first thing I thought when I heard that is, ‘What are we hiding?’”
“I have never been asked in all my six years as a trustee to not talk to the community,” he added.
Ramanathan said he discussed the rezoning plans with parents and teachers anyway, following what he believed was his duty as a trustee.
He also spoke with members of the steering committee tasked with providing input on the attendance zone proposals. He said one member told him, “We were steered to make this decision.”
According to Ramanathan, feedback about the process was overwhelmingly negative: The district was not transparent, failed to provide complete information, and dismissed parents’ concerns.
On top of the unethical nature of the plan’s development, he said the student moves didn’t make sense and the district needed to keep working on the plan.
“There are so many unanswered questions and so many unhappy parents,” he said.
Ramanathan cast the lone vote against the rezoning plan.
Immediately following the vote, he announced his resignation and exited the meeting.
“I just wanted to do the right thing for the district,” he said.
What is the right thing now for Allen ISD parents?
Boren told Texas Scorecard she and other families who opposed the rezoning plans applaud Ramanathan “for his willingness to step up and resign in the face of ethical abuses by the board,” adding that the other trustees “clearly had previously formed their opinions, scripted their questions, and planned their vote.”
“It is time to find new board members willing to listen and work with the community while responsibly respecting the board’s power, which directly impacts our children’s future,” she said.
Citizens may contact their elected Allen ISD trustees and board-appointed Superintendent Robin Bullock (the “Team of Eight”) with questions or concerns.
According to the district’s website, only the board president or superintendent will respond to emails sent to the team. “All Trustees receive copies of Team of Eight emails and receive updates on issues or questions when applicable.”