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No special election: AISD Board votes to appoint District 6 rep

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

In an emotional ceremony Monday night, the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees honored outgoing Vice President Paul Saldaña at his last official meeting as a board trustee. His colleagues made personal statements expressing their gratitude for Saldaña’s service and admiration for him as an individual, and AISD students performed musical numbers, giving his send off a pleasant soundtrack.

“In many ways you, Trustee Saldaña, have been the conscience of this board,” said Trustee Edmund Gordon at the meeting, “insisting that the board and the school district live up to their principles of diversity, equity and inclusion.”

During his tenure, Saldaña led efforts to support immigrant students, coordinate the district’s first equity self-assessment plan and facilitate a cultural training session for the board.

“You have made me a better person,” President Kendall Pace said to Saldaña, “and I hope you can say the same about me.”

In his own remarks, Saldaña said he was thankful for the support of his family and community and that it was a privilege to have served on this board, but that he would be remiss if he did not use his last night as trustee to highlight systemic problems in the school system. “With my departure, I leave one last challenge and task for my colleagues and the Austin community,” he said. “Despite professing to be a very progressive and liberal city, the minority board representation has now been reduced to one in a school district that serves mostly minority students.”

Saldaña went on to say that his resignation also meant that the board would no longer have a Hispanic or Latino representative in a school district where 60 percent of the students identify as Latino. He emphasized that it would ultimately be up to the Austin community at large, not the AISD board, to ensure that students of all races had equal representation.

When a board trustee resigns before the end of their term, the board can either initiate an appointment process or call for a special election. In a recent interview with the Austin Monitor, Saldaña said that he believed that by appointing his replacement the board would have some discretion in making sure the Latino community would continue to be represented on the board.

Members of the community voiced their agreement with this opinion during the meeting’s public hearing. Chris Rios, the chair of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said that appointing a replacement would save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars that it would cost to host a special election. “There are many needs the district has where that money can go to,” he said, “whether it’s facility improvements, dual language programs or more pay for staff.”

The last time the board encountered this dilemma was when Trustee Robert Schneider passed away in 2015. When the board voted to appoint a District 7 replacement for him, Trustee Amber Elenz had opposed the decision, but she said in this case she had changed her mind. “I think it is really important for District 6 to have that voice sooner than November,” she said. “I can support it this go around.”

Trustee Ann Teich made the motion to appoint a replacement, and Trustee Julie Cowan seconded. The motion passed unanimously. Trustees Jayme Mathias and Cindy Anderson were absent.

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