The Austin School Board Hasn't Had This Few Minority Trustees Since the 1990s

Nov 21, 2016

Next week, the Austin School Board will swear-in Cindy Anderson to replace Trustee Gina Hinojosa, who was elected to the Texas House this year. The new board will have the fewest number of minority trustees in at least 20 years, and the remaining trustees of color say that's a problem.

The Austin School Board represents a diverse district; 73 percent of the kids are students of color. But there are now just two trustees of color out of nine, Trustees Paul Saldaña and Ted Gordon. Just a few years ago, five board members were people of color.

Although Texas is a majority-minority state, Trustee Paul Saldaña says that majority hasn’t found a way to fully advocate for itself yet.

"We haven’t formed that political alliance," Saldaña siad. "Or that political alliance has not become a reality, when we don’t think about these things.”

That can make it difficult to get people of color elected. It’s something Trustee Gordon has noticed in the at-large positions — in which the entire city votes for a candidate instead of a specific geographic district.

“Most folks think that diversity is attainable by having the areas of town that are traditionally understood to be black and brown vote their representatives in, then the notion that those folks will be people of color, so that it’s not as important to vote people of color in at-large," Gordon said.  

Gordon and Trustee Saldaña say they’re both concerned by the board’s current lack of diversity.

“Optimally, leadership of the district would represent the constituency that the district serves. And I think that’s the case in terms of race and ethnicity," said Gordon, who adds that a leader does not have to look like the people they represent. “Board members of different races and ethnic backgrounds and genders can represent others.”

But people of color have different experiences and Saldaña says those are key to making decisions that affect predominantly students of color. 

“If somebody has not experienced being a person of color, being a person who has not been on the receiving end of racism, then they may not understand the policy decisions that we are poised to make," Saldaña said. "They may not understand that perspective, and I think that's real important."

Outgoing Trustee Gina Hinojosa says it’s the board’s responsibility to gain other perspectives than their own.

“We have a very ethnically diverse student body and families who are part of our school community," Hinojosa said. "And I believe that in order to best address the challenges and meet the desires and hopes that families have for their kids, it’s important that the board have a good understanding of those perspectives.”

With fewer representatives of color on the board, she says it’s up to the other members to make that effort. School Board President Kendall Pace says the board will start to discuss some kind of cultural competency training during executive session next week, though, the details are unclear at this time. Hinojosa says that’s a good start.

“I think it’s not going to be just about kind of professional development kind of training," Hinojosa said. "I think it’s going to require everyone to try as best as they can to open minds and hearts to perspectives that may not be their lived perspective and that’s just going to take a commitment to being open.”