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AISD trustees lean toward transparent appointment process

Thursday, August 27, 2015 by Courtney Griffin

The Austin Independent School District board of trustees laid out a timeline for potential District 7 applicants at a special meeting Tuesday night. Most of that process will be open to the public.

In a 6-1 decision with District 1 Trustee Edmund Gordon opposed and Vice President Amber Elenz absent, board members decided to honor Southwest Austin constituents’ requests for haste and fill former trustee Robert Schneider’s seat by Sept. 28.

The proposed timeline includes three town-hall-like forums to get feedback from District 7 residents. Trustees stated that the meetings should be chaired by a neutral third-party still to be determined.

With each school hosting a single meeting, District 7 residents will get a chance to ask candidates questions at Bowie High School on Sept. 15, Covington Middle School on Sept. 17 and Baranoff Elementary School on Sept. 19. Trustees set different meeting times for each date in hopes of enabling more of the public to attend.

Board members went even further, deciding to “err on the side of transparency” and hold another open meeting the week of Sept. 21 at AISD headquarters. This meeting will include more questions from the public, questions from trustees and a public interview process for applicants.

Board President Gina Hinojosa noted that making the interview process public would help show applicants’ reactions under pressure.

Trustees also discussed possibly posting candidate applications online as well as documents expressing their own reasoning for appointing an applicant. The application is a standard document that elected candidates fill out and gives the option of attaching a resume. It also includes a seven-question short-answer portion that asks applicants to highlight their priorities, character traits and knowledge of educational issues.

Applicants’ eligibility criteria will exactly mirror AISD’s election criteria. A candidate must have lived in the state for one year and in the district for at least six months, and he or she must be at least 18 years old, registered to vote, a non-felon and in good mental health.

AISD trustees will not set additional criteria for selecting a candidate before notarized applications are due, by 5 p.m. on Sept. 8.

In a separate 4-2-1 motion with Hinojosa and at-large Trustee Kendall Pace opposed, Secretary Jayme Mathias abstaining and Elenz absent, board members decided to meet Sept. 8 to lay out a rubric detailing the criteria they will use to judge applicants.

Pace, who acknowledged the importance of having selection criteria, took issue with subjecting applicants to harsh public scrutiny without proper preparation.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘We are going to discuss on the 8th how we are going to rank and rate you – publicly, (in a way) that’s available for the world to see,” she said. “Some candidates might say, ‘Forget it – it’s not worth it.'”

Board members instructed staff to post its timeline, application and questionnaire on AISD’s website by Wednesday.

AISD school district map courtesy of the Austin Independent School District.

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