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Five seats open on Austin School District board

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 by Mark Richardson

The Austin Independent School District has seen some tough times over past years, and it does not look like things are going to get better anytime soon.

Earlier this year, Superintendent Meria Carstarphen resigned to take the superintendent’s job in Atlanta. District officials are predicting a precipitous drop in AISD’s student population in the next few years. Thanks to falling tax revenues and the state’s Robin Hood (recapture) rule, the district’s financial outlook is also trending downward.

In the midst of all that turmoil, Austin residents will vote Nov. 4 to elect five of the nine seats on the district’s board of trustees. Voters will elect trustees in single-member Districts 1, 4, 6 and 7 and in at-large Position 9.

The election will strip dozens of years of experience from the new board, as four of the five incumbents whose terms are up are not running for re-election. That means that only two members of the newly elected board will start next year with more than two years of experience.

The Austin School District has about 12,000 employees and some 85,000 students enrolled in 128 schools. Despite being labeled a “property rich” school district under the state’s recapture rule, AISD officials say a majority of its students live at or below the poverty line.

The district, which has lost more than $60 million in state funding over the last two years, will also have $175 million of its revenues “reallocated” to other Texas school districts in 2015.

With a lot at stake, there are 16 candidates running for the five positions on the board.

Position 9 is one of two at-large seats on the board. The incumbent is Tamala Barksdale, who is not running for re-election. The Position 9 candidates are:

  • Kendall Pace is a management consultant with Smart Flour Foods. Her three children are enrolled in AISD schools. She has served has served as an AISD Advisory Council member and a member of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Education and Talent Development Council.
  • Kazique Prince is the founder of Jelani Consulting, LLC, which consults with businesses, government agencies and nonprofits on cultural competency and communication skills. He is an East Austin resident and AISD parent. Prince is active in local PTAs.
  • Hillary Procknow teaches developmental reading and writing at The University of Texas and serves as program coordinator for the Texas Success Initiative, a program to provide developmental course work for academically challenged students.
  • Nael Chavez runs the nonprofit Enlightened Warriors in Austin. He is also a military veteran, an AISD parent and has been a child crisis counselor.
  • Andy Trimiño is a retired educator who holds a doctorate in Educational Administration and a professional degree in Educational Psychology. He has also studied in South America, France and Italy.

District 1 covers a large part of northeast Austin, mostly east of I-35 and north of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The District 1 incumbent is Cheryl Bradley, who is not running for re-election. District 1 candidates are:

  • Edmund T. Gordon is chair of the African and African Diaspora Studies Department at The University of Texas. He is also associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and Anthropology of the African Diaspora at UT.
  • Stanton Strickland is an associate commissioner for the Texas Department of Insurance. Strickland is president of the Organization of Central East Austin Neighborhoods and Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association. He says he wants to find other sources of revenue for the school district in order to lower taxes.
  • David “D” Thompson  is the minister at the Austin Stone Community Church. He  was previously a teacher and school administrator.
  • P. Kevin Bryant is a retired educator. He worked in public schools for 29 years, most recently as an administrator in the Pflugerville school district. He has also served as a middle school principal. Teacher retention and increased parental outreach are his campaign issues.

District 4 is in northwest Austin, bounded on the east by Lamar and MoPac boulevards, on the west by the school district boundary, on the north by Parmer Lane and on the south by Lake Austin. The District 4 incumbent is Vincent Torres, who is not running for re-election. District 4 candidates are:

  • Julie Cowan is a mother of three AISD graduates. She worked for two years as the School Improvement Facilitator at Anderson High School, serves as second vice president of the Austin Council of PTAs’ executive board and has been PTA president at Doss Elementary, Murchison Middle and Anderson High schools.
  • Karen Zern Flanagan is a dietitian with a master’s degree in Food Science. She is an AISD parent. Flanagan was appointed to and served on AISD’s Community Bond Oversight Committee, even though she campaigned against the 2012 bond issue.

District 6 is a sprawling area that runs from Lady Bird Lake south to the Travis County line, bounded on the east by the school district boundary and on the west by South Lamar and South First Street. The District 6 incumbent is Lori Moya, who is not running for re-election. District 6 candidates are:

  • Paul Saldaña is a public relations consultant. He was an aide to former Austin Mayor and AISD Board President Gus Garcia and former board chair of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He has been active in AISD issues and is calling for the district — which has a majority of Hispanic students — to hire a Hispanic superintendent.
  • Monica Sanchez is a lifelong resident of District 6 and has children enrolled in Casey Elementary. She is a former president of the Austin Council of PTAs. Her campaign theme is “Acting Together for the Future of All Children.” She refers to herself as “The Solutionator.”
  • Kate Mason-Murphy is a former teacher at the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders.

District 7 covers most of southwest Austin, bounded on the west by the school district boundary, on the east by South First Street and on the south by the Travis County line. The District 7 incumbent is Robert Schneider, who is running for re-election. District 7 candidates are:

  • Robert Schneider was elected to the board in 2002, was re-elected in 2006 and again in 2010. He is retired after 30 years as a computer analyst at The University of Texas. Schneider currently serves as chair of the AISD Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the district’s ad hoc Committee for Policy and Process Review for Site-Based Decision Making.
  • Yasmin Wagner has been an Austin resident for more than 20 years. Wagner has served as a PTA board member and on the AISD Boundary Advisory Committee, as well as in leadership roles with nonprofits including the YWCA of Greater Austin, Girls Rock Austin and SafePlace.

Early voting runs through Oct. 31. Election Day is Nov. 4. More information about the Trustees Elections is available at the Austin ISD website.

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