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Austin ISD School Board Candidates Say There's a 'Lack of Trust' in School District

KUT News
School board candidates in Districts One and Four said the public has lost its faith in the school district.

Austin School Board candidates in North Austin met last night in the first of three forums held by the League of Women Voters.  There are two candidates running in District Four, which includes Austin’s Northwest Hills neighborhoods and four candidates running in District One.

While the candidates all had different ideas, candidates all agreed on one thing: The public doesn’t trust the school district, which is one of the reasons, they say, the district is seeing declining enrollment, especially in East Austin schools.

Candidates all had different reasons why the district has lost the public’s trust.

“Some of the past superintendents haven’t been good at reaching out to community," said Edmund Gordon, a professor at UT-Austin and District One candidate, which represents the parts of the East Side.

“[Parents]have had negative experiences in schools with children," says his opponent, attorney Stanton Strickland. "Everything from security and safety and them not learning to the level they should and equivalent to other students. They don’t think they’re getting equal opportunity and success.”

Two of the candidates in District One did not attend the forum. Candidates from District Four, located in Northwest Austin, agreed. 

"There is a lack of trust and we saw it in the bond projects," says Karen Flanagan. "I didn't trust the projects and I advocated against them.

"We're ready for a more positive air about it," says Julie Cowan, Flanagan's opponent. 

All four candidates say the school board needs to establish its role and mission within the district and communicate it properly. With four to possibly five new school board members and a new superintendent, they say this is a good opportunity to take a stand—especially at the legislature.

Austin ISD is facing tough budget constraints in the next few years because of the state's school finance system. Some candidates say the district needs to be more proactive about advocating for the itself when the legislature meets next session.

“If we don’t ask, we’ll never know," says Julie Cowan, who touted her experience working at the legislature with the group Texans Advocating for a Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA).

The League of Women Voters is holding two other forums for the other three school board races next week. Tuesday's forum will host candidates from Districts 6 and 7 at Crockett High School, while Thursday's forum will host the at-large candidates at Martin Middle School.

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