Baldwin: Don’t sell Texas School for the Deaf property

Baldwin: Don’t sell Texas School for the Deaf property

February 13, 2015

By Steve C. Baldwin – Special to the American-Statesman

In regards to the American-Statesman front-page story on February 9,2015 “Senators weigh moving Texas School for Deaf,” history was repeating itself.

My friends, who live in Taft and are 1944 graduates of Texas School for the Deaf, called me this week to say that the same attempt to move or sell the school happened several times in the past. My wife, Rosie Serna, a 1967 graduate, said that others have inquired about buying this prime property, but nothing materialized, happily eliminating any fear of altering the school’s long history at its current location, where it’s been since 1857. I also recall serious attempts to move Texas School for the Deaf to South Austin, but the 1989 Legislature wisely found it more efficient to implement the school’s Campus Master Plan.

Texas School for the Deaf happens to be just a small historic jewel in Texas’ crown. Jokingly or not, it’s no surprise that it is coveted in the eyes of drooling developers or legislators who are looking for money to cover the state’s unmet needs. But the bottom line is: Texas School for the Deaf is rarely perceived as land for sale, and for good reason. It is the home of countless generations of deaf and hearing-impaired people who have found in this gem a place to learn, grow and belong, and to ultimately become independent taxpaying citizens. It has enshrined 159 years of deaf culture and deaf heritage and its history in South Austin is sacred. Would you sell the Alamo — or the Capitol grounds? Their land is valuable as well.

Such attempts to move, sell or buy the school property may be nothing new, but this time the Texas Senate Committee on Finance, in responding to the dramatic presentation by the Texas Facilities Commission of the soaring needs of the school facilities, has unleashed a tsunami of concerns and fear among parents, students, alumni and friends. Though we once were home to cattle drives passing through in the 1870s, our community and neighbors have no desire to have any part of the campus become “wagon wheel condo ruts.”

In fairness to the Finance Committee, the senators are looking at viable ways to meet the Facilities Commission’s 2016-17 biennium request of $37 million for deferred maintenance, upkeep and repairs.

Despite the predicted tax cuts during this 84th legislative session and a ballooning Texas School for the Deaf student population, the senators obviously care about the school’s programs. We are certain with the cooperation of the Facilities Commission, the school and state leadership, more creative solutions can be found than balancing the budget on the backs of deaf children and their families.

We hope that they floated a “trial balloon” with good intentions and will now focus on a more reasonable strategy to make some of the more vital repairs and perhaps consider a feasibility study if they think one is needed. It is our hope that state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, will heed the words of Mark Twain, who said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” Likewise the reports of the condition of the Texas School for the Deaf facilities have been greatly exaggerated. Visit the campus — read the blogs of our neighbors who consider it an oasis in the burgeoning traffic, tower cranes and concrete congestion of South Austin.

Yes, it would defy common sense even to downsize the campus. Our Texas deaf community clearly and loudly resents such an absurd idea, for these reasons: 1. Texas School for the Deaf is the oldest campus in Texas, with 159 years of productive history; 2. The school is one of the best schools for the deaf in America; 3. Unlike most schools for the deaf, Texas School for the Deaf has an increasing student population and critical statewide outreach mission; 4. The Texas Legislature traditionally has held both the school and the deaf community in high esteem and supported its educational vision.

From the perspective of its alumni, parents, students and the public, Texas School for the Deaf always will be an integral part of downtown Austin and Texas history.

The Texas deaf community and the Texas School for the Deaf family can only hope that the Senate Finance Committee will use its wisdom and respect without bartering for the soul of Texas School for the Deaf.

Baldwin is a former president of Texas Association of the Deaf.


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