Parents already camping out to get Arlington school transfers

ARLINGTON — Parents in the Arlington school district can’t sign their children up for transfers in the 2010-2011 school year until March 1, but the traditional camping out beforehand has already begun.

Mark and Cyrese Austin started Monday night - almost three weeks beforehand - adding the sight of a pop-up camper and the hum of a generator to the parking lot of the AISD administration building at 1203 W. Pioneer Parkway.

They want their son Cade to get into kindergarten at Butler Elementary. That’s where his friends from soccer and tee-ball are going and the campus is rated exemplary. Their home campus, which Cyrese Austin didn’t want to talk about by name, isn’t as highly rated.

Cyrese Austin got laid off from her job as a financial analyst in October, so “my days are a little freed up,” she said. Her husband will have the night shift at the camper and family and friends have also agreed to help out, she said. The Austins also have a toddler and an infant.

Arlington students are allowed to transfer between campuses, if space is available. Last week, Arlington school trustees voted to close 15 campuses to transfers for the 2010-2011 school year because they are already projected to be full. A list of how many spots are available in each grade level at each open campus is typically released closer to the opening of sign-ups. Transfers pay a $50 fee if they sign up in March. Later, it goes up to $80.

Trustee Gloria Peña said at Thursday’s school board meeting that she’d like to see the district look at changing to a lottery system. She questioned the fairness to parents who didn’t have the time to camp out and whether the process was requiring to much staff attention. Staff have had to let campers in the administration building when extreme weather threatened. They also had to ask some campers to put out campfires last year, officials said.

As first in line, the Austins will keep a list of other parents and when they arrive. Last year’s first in line family - who were also in line for Butler - loaned the Austins the pop-up camper and told them what to expect.

"They sat me down and gave me all the dos and the don’ts and the ins and the outs," said Cyrese Austin.