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Education

Everything You Need to Know About Austin School Board Candidates

AISD_School_Board.jpg
KUT News
There are five Austin ISD school board races up for election.

Five of the nine Austin School Board seats are up for grabs this Election Day. Current trustees in four of those five races decided not to run, which means there will be a lot of new faces on the school board.

The turnover comes as the school district is looking for a new superintendent. The new school board will have some major decisions to make in the next few years regarding the district’s budget, overcrowded and under-enrolled schools and declining enrollment district-wide.

Plus, for people who live within the district, most of an individual’s property tax bill goes toward AISD, not the city of Austin, Austin Community College or Travis County. So even if you don’ t have children in the district, or at all, the Austin School Board can still affect your wallet if it decides to raise property taxes.

Here’s a break down of who is running in each race:

District One:

There are four candidates running in this East Austin district, where incumbent Cheryl Bradley has decided not to run for reelection. District One mostly consists of low-income, minority students. The neighborhood has a contentious history with the district since desegregation, and many parents and community groups say they feel ignored by the district. The recent controversy surrounding a charter school called IDEA only added to that resentment. Many candidates are running on the platform of rebuilding trust and ensuring equity among students, especially those on the East Side.

David “D” Thompson is one candidate. Thompson was born and raised in Austin and is a former teacher at KIPP Academy, a charter school in East Austin. He’s a Teach for America alumnus and is now a community minister at the Austin Stone Community Church. Thompson received criticism from local community groups for taking campaign donations from individuals linked to charter school supporters across the country. Thompson credits those donations to his teaching connections and involvement in the non-profit, Leadership for Educational Equity. He is running on the issues of equity among students in the district and his classroom experience as a teacher.

Ted Gordon is the Chair of the African and African Diaspora Department and an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UT Austin. He’s been involved with the PTA at his children’s schools in East Austin and multiple AISD committees targeting the district’s African American student population. He has the endorsement of the teacher’s union Education Austin, the political action committee Austin Kids First, as well as multiple newspapers and community groups.

Meanwhile, Stanton Strickland has lived in East Austin for 16 years and heads a variety of neighborhood associations. He is an attorney who started his career as a lawyer for a school district outside Houston. For the past 18 years he’s worked with the Texas Department of Insurance and is currently the Associate Commissioner for the legal department. Strickland is focused on bridging the achievement gap among socioeconomic groups, working with the legislature to provide change the current state school finance system and hiring a permanent superintendent.

The final candidate, P. Kevin Bryant, is a retired teacher. He’s done very little campaigning in this race and has not filed campaign finance reports for his race.

District Four:

District Four encompasses Northwest Austin, one of the wealthier districts with strong-performing schools. It has some pockets of overcrowding

Julie Cowan has a lot of involvement in various PTAs across Northwest Austin. She’s also served on various campus and district-wide committees and has previous experience serving on various foundations in Austin. Cowan also has experience working as a legislative aide in the Texas House of Representatives and is touting her experience at the legislature as an asset when AISD tries to lobby lawmakers on changing the state’s school finance system. Cowan has the endorsement of Education Austin, Austin Kids First, multiple newspapers and the current District Four trustee, Vincent Torres. Torres is not running for re-election.  Cowan ran against District 9 trustee Tamala Barksdale in 2010 for the at-large position but lost.

Meanwhile, Cowan's opponent, Karen Zern Flanagan is a dietician in Austin who became more involved in the school district during the 2013 bond election. She vocally opposed the bond propositions and also serves on the Citizens Bond Oversight Committee. Flanagan has called the district too bureaucratic and criticized leaders for not listening to parents and teachers.

District Six (South Central Austin):

District Six is another seat where the long-time incumbent is not running for re-election. Three candidates are vying for the seat now held by Lori Moya. This district is dealing with overcrowded schools. The district includes Hispanic neighborhoods with a lot of history in Austin, and it is the only district where Austin Kids First decided not to endorse a candidate.

Monica Sanchez is the former Austin Council of PTAs president and serves on various district committees. She’s campaigned as someone with experience and knowledge of AISD. Sanchez opposed three-year contracts for teachers and is openly critical of the teacher’s union, Education Austin, at board meetings. She’s also critical of the school district bureaucracy and what she calls its “top-down approach.”

Paul Saldana runs his own public relations firm in Austin and was the chief of staff for former Austin Mayor Gus Garcia. He’s been involved in various political organizations and served on various AISD community committees and local Hispanic advocacy groups. Saldana has the endorsement of Education Austin, the teacher’s union.  

The final candidate, Kate Mason-Murphy, is a former teacher at the Ann Richards School. She’s running a grassroots campaign and supports neighborhood schools and three-year teacher contracts. She’s criticized the idea of magnet schools, which she says is unfair to bus students across the city. At forums she has suggested the district do more to offer magnet programming at more neighborhood schools  so students can remain local.

District 7 (Southwest Austin):

District Seven is in Southwest Austin, which consists of primarily wealthy neighborhoods and many overcrowded schools, including Bowie High School. It’s the only race where a current school board member is running for reelection. Robert Schneider has served as District 7 trustee for the last 12 years and is touting his experience as a reason for re-election. It’s no secret that Schneider had a tense relationship with former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. During his time on the board, Schneider voted to end the contract with IDEA public schools, the charter working at Allan Elementary on the East side, and supported three- year contracts for teachers. While he supported the district's layoffs in 2011, when the school district let go more than 1,000 employees, Schneider raised concerns about the process and lack of information about the decision.

However, Schneider was criticized for not moving fast enough on the construction of a new high school in South Austin, especially by his opponent, Yasmin Wagner. Wagner wants to set an established timeline to find the land and build that school.

Wagner has served on various PTAs and committees in Southwest Austin. Wagner is running on the platform that Southwest Austin needs a new leader and a new voice on the school board. Wagner wants to address overcrowding, improve professional development for teachers and increase communication with the community about what the district offers when it comes to programming.

District 9 (At Large):

The at-large district seat is the only race where the entire city of Austin votes on the trustee. Five candidates have filed, but only three candidates have filed campaign finance reports: Kendall Pace, Kazique Prince and Andy Trimino.

The other two candidates are Hillary Procknow and Nael Chavez. Procknow is not raising any money on purpose because she’s concerned about the amount of money candidates have raised (Kendall Pace has raised more than $80,000). In an email to KUT, Procknow says she’s now supporting Kazique Prince, even though she has not formally withdrawn from the race. Prince also has the endorsement of Education Austin, the teacher’s union, and the current District 9 Trustee, TamalaBarksdale. Prince and Pace are both running as progressives, but their support is coming from different areas in Austin.  Pace has attracted donors from West Austin and the political action committee, Austin Kids First, which gave her more than $35,000. Prince’s support comes more from East Austin and local Hispanic and African American groups.

Correction: A previous version of this story said Kazique Prince was endorsed by the Texas Democratic Party. Prince received a $3,000 in kind contribution from the Texas Democratic Party to access the Texas Voter Acquisition Network. 

Andy Trimino is the final candidate in that race. He is a retired teacher who studied education across the world, but has done little fundraising and campaigning on specific issues.

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