IDEA withdraws STEM Academy proposal

Moved by the message of UTPB STEM Academy parents and students, leaders of the University of Texas Permian Basin and IDEA Public Schools have decided to withdraw the proposal for a UTPB/IDEA partnership.
The idea of the partnership between University of Texas Permian Basin and IDEA Public Schools was presented at a May 20 news conference attended by many upset parents who had heard about the proposal the weekend of May 17 through a letter.
There was a parent meeting later in the day that filled the UTPB gym.
IDEA Public Schools are a fast-growing network of tuition-free public prekindergarten through 12th grade charter schools. They plan to open campuses in Midland in 2020 and in Odessa in 2021.
At the May 20 news conference, UTPB President Sandra Woodley, Bethany Solis, executive director of IDEA Permian Basin, and education advocates Collin Sewell and Lorraine Perryman spoke in support of a partnership with the two entities.
Woodley said Monday that the university doesn’t have the ability to build a kindergarten through 12th grade school on the campus and the portable buildings that house the STEM Academy will become unsafe in the next few years.
Parents were upset about hearing of the proposal on short notice. Parents and students also said they didn’t see why the school didn’t need to be fixed when it wasn’t broken and that classes would be too large if IDEA took over. There was also concern that IDEA teachers don’t have to be certified and that they don’t stay long.
An online petition was posted Sunday by a student at The goal was 2,500 signatures and as of late morning Thursday.
“In my urgency to find a long-term solution to secure the future of this work, I presented what I believed was the best option, but did not allow enough vetting with the STEM family, and for that, I sincerely apologize,” Woodley wrote in a letter Thursday.
A letter from Bethany Solis, also dated on Thursday, said she deeply regrets the “angst that our proposal caused you and your families.”
“With this in mind, Dr. Woodley and I have discussed at length the right path forward and we both agree that the best decision is not to move forward with our proposed partnership. We hope to find many other ways to work together in our shared goal to increase access to higher education in the Permian Basin,” Solis wrote.
In her letter, Woodley said another solution to secure the future of STEM Academy must be found.
“I will assemble a task force composed of parents, teachers, staff and students work with the university and the STEM advisory board to sole the challenge that looms. We will convene the group in June to get started on our work. Please know that my intentions have always been focused on a positive outcome,” Woodley wrote.
Woodley said Thursday that the university has had to spend quite a bit of money patching up the portables the school is in. She added that she didn’t know how many years the buildings will remain viable because they weren’t meant for long-term use.
She said her goal all along was to present the best option to parents three months before the UT Board of Regents meeting, which would have had to approve the proposal. The IDEA board would have considered the proposal in June.
“… I think it was an important point that the STEM family made that they really did want the opportunity to vet all options before being presented one,” Woodley said.
The task force Woodley said she plans to form is an opportunity for the STEM stakeholders to understand the scope of the problem and come together to evaluate whether there are other opportunities.
“Because, and I said this many times in the conversations, the university does not have the ability to build new facilities for k-12 schools,” Woodley said.
She added that some institutions like UT Tyler have been able to do that, but she doesn’t have the debt capacity.
When she came to UTPB two years ago, Woodley said, the university had reached its debt limit — and beyond — so anything that is done will have to be funded in a different way. Tuition Revenue Bonds and Permanent University Fund money are for use by the university.
“It’s a lift. It’s going to be a lift to get it done. This is not an easy to problem to solve,” Woodley said.
She added that she was surprised at how quickly stakeholders rejected the IDEA proposal.
“… I thought was a good option, but I understand their feelings and their thoughts, so it was never my intention to force a solution that the STEM families did not want. However, the fact remains that we must find a solution and a solution will not be easy,” Woodley said.
Tasha Vasquez and Jennifer Ramsey, parents of STEM students, said they were in a celebratory mood late Thursday morning.
Vasquez said she was excited, happy and relieved.
“We’re a celebratory mood right now. We’re at the boat races. We feel like a cloud has lifted,” Vasquez said.
Ramsey said she was “blown away” by how the STEM Academy came together and that good things are going to come out of it. She added that the relationship with Woodley is something that is going to have to be rebuilt.
Having been to the parent meeting Monday night, Ramsey said it was one of the most exciting, invigorating gathers she had ever been part of and she said it felt like the stakeholders’ voices were being heard.
“I think charter movement is important out here. This just wasn’t a smart decision,” Ramsey said.
She has further questions about IDEA and wonders if something like this will happen again.