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Here are the candidates for Austin ISD board of trustees

Tuesday, October 16, 2018 by Claire McInerny, KUT

Five seats on the Austin Independent School District’s board of trustees will be on the ballot Nov. 6.

The role of the school board is to oversee the AISD superintendent and district administration. The board votes on district policy and budgets, and sets tax rates. Members serve four-year terms. You can see which district you live in here.

Here are the candidates on the ballot this year.

District 1

Ted Gordon

Gordon is the incumbent for District 1, which covers much of East Austin. During his tenure on the board, Gordon has advocated for equity for East Austin students and schools. He was vocal about changing the names of district buildings linked to the Confederacy. He argued AISD buildings should not continue to memorialize these figures.

In September, Gordon spearheaded an initiative asking the district to do more for low-income students and kids of color. He and other advocates for equity in the district released a list of demands, which they called a “manifesto.”

The manifesto asked the superintendent to consider rewriting school boundaries as a way to desegregate the district. Most black and Latino students in the district are concentrated at the same schools, mostly in East Austin.

“When I’ve raised the problem of segregation with the board members and with the administration, almost no one is willing to touch that because it is so politically problematic, especially for folks on the West Side,” he said at a press conference Sept. 5.

LaTisha Anderson

Anderson is a native Austinite who attended AISD schools, including Austin High, Lanier and LBJ high schools. She currently works as a caregiver for the elderly.

Like Gordon, she wants to see more equity in the schools in her district. One change she’d like to see is training for teachers working with minority and low-income students.

“I don’t care what the color is as long as you know how to reach those students that you’re teaching,” she said.

She worked with the district to host the African-American Parent Involvement Conference, which encourages parent participation in their child’s schools. Anderson has also served on PTAs and other committees within the district.

District 4

Kristin Ashy

Ashy is a career educator and parent of two AISD students. She taught pre-K for more than 20 years and took this year off to run for school board.

She began volunteering in education when her daughter started at Doss Elementary. The school was overcrowded, so she joined the PTA to try and address the issue. That was her introduction to working with the school board and district.

Current District 4 Board Member Julie Cowan, who is not seeking re-election, appointed Ashy to the Facilities and Bond Planning Advisory Committee. FABPAC was charged with evaluating every school building and creating long-term plans for schools. Its report led to many of the plans in the 2017 bond.

Ashy says her experience on FABPAC gave her good insight into how the district and board operate.

“My knowledge and my volunteerism and my time spent working with AISD over these last eight years has really prepared me for this position,” she said. “I’m going to have a shorter learning curve.”

Zachary Price

Price is a 20-year-old junior studying government at the University of Texas. He’s a graduate of Anderson High School in District 4, and has a younger brother in elementary school in the district.

Price says the school board needs to do a better job involving more people in policy decisions and improve its community engagement.

He says the board and the district need to be more clear on their goals for students. He thinks sexual assault awareness and reporting, mental health services, and closing the achievement gap are the most important issues.

“It’s the job of the school board to set large-scale goals for the district on major priorities … and making sure they come to fruition,” he said. “And if they don’t, who are we holding accountable for that?”

District 6

Geronimo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is the current board president and running unopposed.

District 7

Yasmin Wagner

Wagner is the board vice president and running unopposed.

District 9 – At-Large Position

Arati Singh

Singh is a teacher turned education program consultant. She was a bilingual teacher in the Rio Grande Valley for 20 years and currently runs her own consulting firm working with universities to create academic programs. She has two children in AISD schools, a senior at Austin High and a sixth-grader at Small Middle School.

She began working in AISD on the PTA when her children attended Oak Hill Elementary. The school had a large population of low-income and Spanish-speaking families, but those populations weren’t reflected on the PTA. She did outreach to try to diversify the PTA and saw more parents get involved who typically weren’t.

Singh has also served on the Austin Council of PTAs, working with parent-support specialists throughout the district. As a representative of the entire city, she says, she spends time at schools and in neighborhoods where residents don’t always attend board meetings.

“The district does usually listen to people who speak up, and I want to be the voice of people who also don’t speak up,” she said.

Singh said she wants the district to be clear about its priorities as it faces budget issues. She said it faces tough choices so it needs and that knowing what its priorities are will help guide those choices.

Carmen Tilton

Tilton has lived in Austin for 20 years and currently works in education policy. She is the current senior executive policy adviser for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. She previously worked for former state Sen. Wendy Davis, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and other lawmakers as an education policy adviser. Part of her work at the statehouse included working with Gov. Greg Abbott on pre-K legislation.

“That’s probably where I bring the most value,” she said. As AISD continues to pay millions of dollars to the state in recapture, the district is trying to engage with lawmakers more on school finance.

“I know those members, I know Dan Patrick. … I know what their issues are, what they want to see, how things need to be framed,” she said, “and I think that voice and that perspective is going to be incredibly important.”

One thing she wants to see the board improve is outreach to the community, including potential students. She has a 2-year-old and said she doesn’t see much marketing or outreach for pre-K programs or elementary schools. She says AISD needs to improve its marketing efforts because many elementary schools are under enrolled.

Sam Russo

Russo is a native Austinite and longtime AISD volunteer. He has volunteered for 15 years as a mentor at Govalle Elementary and Lamar Middle School, and served on a campus advisory council and the district advisory council. He has four children.

He says his three priorities as a school board member would be customer service, climate and consistency in the district. Other areas he says he is concerned about are declining enrollment, budget shortfalls and getting kids on grade level.

In an email, he explained why he is running:

“I am NOT running to focus on legislative initiatives or to build my political career, but as a community member and parent who recognizes the primary role of a trustee is to work with communities to improve our public schools,” Russo wrote. “As a part of a nonprofit network in Austin I have had the role of developing policies, budgets, and curriculum that impact a diverse group of people. I have also been an advocate for community involvement in supporting AISD and believe the district needs a trustee that will work to ensure policies, budgets, and curriculum prove to create academic success for all students.”

This story was produced as part of the Austin Monitor’s reporting partnership with KUT. Photo by Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT.

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