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Education

Austin ISD will have to find a new superintendent as it struggles with teacher shortage and budget cuts

A woman wearing a mask looks down at a sheet of paper in the hallway of a school.
Jordan Vonderhaar
/
for KUT
AISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde reviews notes on the first day of school at Eastside Memorial High School last August. Elizalde is likely leaving her position to lead Dallas ISD.

Austin ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde will likely be leaving the school district for Dallas.

Right now, Elizalde is the lone finalist for superintendent of Dallas ISD. State law requires school boards to wait 21 days after naming a finalist before officially hiring a new superintendent, but her appointment is expected.

Elizalde's potential departure date is unclear. Current Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa won't be leaving until December. The Austin ISD school board must decide in the next few months whether to find Elizalde's replacement sooner than that.

“We’ve got some … decisions to make as a board and we’ll start having those conversations,” AISD School Board President Geronimo Rodriguez said. “There will be a discussion with my colleagues on the board about what that transition will be. I don’t want to guess about that, but I will tell you that the process has started.”

Rodriguez said over the next six weeks, the school board needs to focus on other important issues facing the district before jumping into the hiring process.

“We’ve got redistricting, we’ve got a budget we have to vote on … we have graduations,” he said. “So, there is still a lot of work to be done. That’s what we’re focused on … is serving our students, faculty and staff.”

Ken Zarifis, the head of the union that represents AISD employees, said this is an opportunity for the district to reset.

"Education Austin is happy for Dr. Elizalde," he said. "We are also happy about her decision for the students and workers of Austin ISD. We believe this is an opportunity to ... restore the core values of equity, social emotional support, and the focus on student and worker well-being."

Elizalde's new role will mark her return to Dallas, where she served as chief of school leadership.

She joined AISD as the city's first Latina superintendent in August 2020. She was the first superintendent in Central Texas to defy the governor and mandate masks for students and staff last year.

In addition to the pandemic, Austin ISD has faced several other challenges during Elizalde's tenure, including a staffing shortage. As schools were forced to return to in-person classes, Texas teachers have been leaving their positions in droves, citing low pay and extreme workloads. Earlier this year, AISD proposed cutting hundreds of jobs to give teachers raises and to cover the district's mammoth recapture payment.

Budget cuts, staffing shortages and safety measures are all matters the next superintendent will be left to contend with. Zarifis said he hopes Elizalde's successor works on relationships and building trust before making major changes.

"Austin is a special place that values community engagement and process," he said. "Trust and respect must be the foundation of all the work that follows. As this administration discovered, once trust is broken here with labor and community, it is hard to recover."

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