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Here's Everything You Missed from the Austin School Board Meeting

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
Last night's Austin School Board saw discussions of school equity, diversity and the district's ability to adopt a "district of innovation" plan.

You probably weren't streaming Monday night's Austin School Board meeting and there's even less of a chance that you were at the meeting itself. Don't worry, we've got you covered. 

Here's a break down of all the night’s action:

Superintendent Paul Cruz got a raise

Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz got a two-year contract extension and a 4 percent pay increase, bringing his annual base salary to $306,343 plus a $12,000 vehicle allotment, $4,800 technology allotment and $6,291.60 for health insurance for a total compensation of $329,454.                                

“Our superintendent is an engaging, people-oriented person who knows the value of investing time and effort and building positive internal and external relationships," said Kendall Pace, Austin School Board President. "He’s worked to build positive relationships with the community, business and educational leaders and the favorable perception of the district has increased under his leadership."

Three board members abstained from the vote, including Trustee Ted Gordon, Trustee Pace and Trustee Yasmin Wagner.

New recess rules

The board approved a new policy that requires elementary schools to provide kindergarten through fifth grade student to receive 30 minutes of unstructured recess every day. Recess cannot be taken away from a student as punishment. 

The measure was initially intended to go into effect at the start of the school year, and the time allotted for recess would be in addition to gym class and the district’s 20-minute structured playtime.

Weighing an affordable housing partnership

The board also approved a resolution to pursue possible affordable housing projects with the City of Austin and Travis County. School Board Vice President Paul Saldana is one of the local leaders involved in that discussion in the joint subcommittee of Austin City Council members, AISD School Board Trustees and Travis County Commissioners.                                                                                                            

“I think this is just an opportunity to explore some synergy that can potentially be created with no commitments to say that we’re willing to formally have these conversations," Saldana said.

Trustee Amber Elenz abstained from the vote because of a procedural disagreement.

Promote the vote

The board also approved a resolution encouraging the superintendent and campus staff to promote a culture of voting on campuses in the district. The effort would reach out to inform teachers and voting-age students when and where they can vote and encourage them to learn about candidates' stances and policy on public education, according to the board's agenda.

Elenz abstained from the vote because of a procedural disagreement. 

District of innovation plan moves forward

Austin ISD also got a little bit closer to possibly becoming a "district of innovation," a state program that would give public school districts the same freedoms as charter schools, allowing for larger class size ratios, the ability to hire non-certified teachers and the ability for schools to set their own first day of school.

It was a silent move forward, however – no one from the public signed up to talk about it.

Some argue the district's adoption of a plan would allow for more flexibility, while others argue a plan could adversely affect teacher contracts and state funding.

Now, the school board will appoint a committee to create the actual district of innovation plan.

Equity assessment update

Superintendent Paul Cruz updated the board on the district’s equity self-assessment which looks at how equitable schools are district-wide. Cruz says he sees room to grow, but the assessment isn’t complete yet.

The district developed an equity report card and school performance index to measure factors that create a quality school, including graduation rates, academic achievement and the implementation of disciplinary policies.

Board looks to diversify Austin public schools

The board took a first step to stem the defacto desegregation in Austin public schools. Many Austin ISD schools are either majority wealthier, white students or majority low-income students of color.   

Trustees want district staff to develop a plan to desegregate schools starting in East and Northeast Austin. But some Trustees, including Julie Cowan, want more than that.                                                                         

“We want to move more quickly. We don’t want just a plan, Dr. Cruz," Cowan said. "Well, I don’t want to rush it and I want you to be intentional, but I want all of them to realize what you’ve written down here so when we go to measure him next year, this is what we’re getting. We’re not here for a long, long time. We want to get things done right away.”                                                                                                                          

But the board said developing a plan is fine for now, which means it’ll be a few years before any concrete changes are made. 

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