AISD agrees to $440,000 contract for family resource centers after applicants break rules

The Austin School District has postponed a school board decision to choose an organization to run five family centers on district campuses after staff members said both applicants violated rules about communicating with administrators or staff members.

The delay puts on hold the renewal of a contract that facilitates the resource centers, which serve some of Austin’s most at-risk students and families. The contract process attracted bids from two well-known, long-standing nonprofits in the Austin school community: Austin Voices for Education and Youth and Communities in Schools of Central Texas.

The new contract would establish family resource center services at five Austin campuses: Houston Elementary School and Burnet, Dobie, Martin and Webb high schools, according to district documents.

Family Resource Centers are on-campus support facilities designed to assist families in the district with basic needs such as housing and access to health care. The information centers are partly intended to help stabilize the home situation of at-risk students, so that they can more easily concentrate on their education.

Nonprofit organization Austin Voices for Education and Youth has operated family centers in the district for 17 years. Austin Voices currently manages the five that receive funding from the district, plus two others that it funds itself.

During the process of a regularly scheduled bid to update the contract, the district’s panel of scorers gave Communities in Schools an 88.86 and Austin Voices an 82.14 on the procurement rubric. Typically, district staff members will recommend the vendor with the highest score to board members for final approval.

The board was scheduled to vote on the contract Thursday, but staff withdrew the item after discovering that all parties involved had violated local government policy, said Jacob Reach, chief of government relations and governance services.

An existing board policy prohibits suppliers from communicating with board members or district staff during a specific period in the purchasing process, Reach said.

Reach declined to discuss the details surrounding the alleged violations.

In general, email communications and in-person conversations would constitute a violation of the no-contact period, with the exception of public comments during board meetings, Reach said.

The Austin School District had opened the contract to bidding as part of the public procurement process, while the district is opening the floor for vendors to bid on contracts over $100,000.

The $439,449 contract uses $218,300 from the county, $111,149 from the city of Austin and $110,000 from Travis County.

Vendors and their representatives cannot indirectly or directly request or influence board members and district staff to take certain actions, but they can communicate with the district about a “non-substantive, procedural matter,” according to local policy.

Investing in Austin schools

Both nonprofits have been an integral part of Austin’s education community for decades.

Austin Voices created the first Family Resource Center at Webb Middle School in 2007, Associate Executive Director Louis Malfaro said.

“We founded them,” Malfaro said. “We do more than just provide centers for family care. We have alliances with community schools.”

In a 2023 report, the nonprofit noted that it served 6,800 clients in the 2022-2023 school year, largely with basic needs and health and housing services.

“We have created an environment of nonprofits, government agencies and churches that support the schools,” Malfaro said.

Communities in Schools of Central Texas, a local affiliate of the national organization, also has served area schools for more than 40 years.

“This work aligns with our mission to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, as well as our strategic plan that builds on our 39-year partnership with AISD to engage and support families.” said Sharon Vigil, CEO of the local chapter.

The nonprofit works in schools to provide students with counseling and academic support and provides basic needs for families. The Central Texas chapter works with more than 8,500 students in seven school districts, including Austin.

“We are confident that we have made good faith efforts to comply with AISD policies and have followed the precedents and standards set by the district in recent requests,” Vigil said.

The school board will not act on the contract Thursday, but district staff could provide an update, Reach said. The topic was removed from Thursday’s agenda, but staff noted the change in an effort to provide transparency as the contract has generated significant interest from the community, he said.

After Thursday, district staffers plan to decide how to address the outstanding contract, Reach said.

The district could place the contract for a new bid on a reduced bid timeline, which is typically 30 days, Reach said. Austin Voices and Communities in Schools, the only two vendors that asked for the contract, could reapply if a new bid is submitted, he said.

This article originally appeared on the Austin American-Statesman: Austin school district postpones vote on family resource center contract