After two terms on the Austin Independent School District Board of Trustees, Board President Mark Williams has announced that he is not running for re-election this November.
In a brief phone chat, Williams confirmed that he will not be running for re-election. This leaves his Center City district seat (centered around Austin High School) open. One candidate, outgoing Austin Council of Parent-Teachers Association president Amber Elenz, has already launched a campaign website.
Williams joined the board in 2004: Then the president of Highland Park PTA, he ran unopposed to replace Ingrid Taylor in district 5. He became president in 2006, and was re-elected after running unopposed in 2008.
After a bruising year in which he has been the subject of heavy criticism, Williams said he was not stepping down because of any one reason – in fact, he said, he would have stayed on if there were no candidates to replace him. However, he admitted that the position – which comes with no pay or benefits, and is an immense stress on every trustee – was looking less appealing for another four years. Recently Alenz told him she was prepared to run, just not against him, so he is stepping aside. The move will allow him time in his new position with teen alcohol awareness charity Awake Aware Al!ve, which was founded in memory of hazing victim Carson Starkey, a former AISD student who died of alcohol poisoning while attending California Polytechnic State University.
His departure puts extra emphasis on what was already high-stakes election. Four trustee seats are on the ballot, and Williams was the only incumbent ensured of re-election (well, until this announcement.) At-Large member Annette LoVoi had already announced she will not be running again, and her seat has drawn two potential successors: Sooch Foundation executive director Mary Ellen Pietruszynski and civil rights attorney Gina Hinojosa. However, two incumbent face challenges. In South-East Austin's district one Sam Guzman in faces Father Jayme Mathias, pastor at Cristo Rey Catholic Church. Over in district three, covering North Austin around Lanier High, first termer Christine Brister faces teacher Ann Teich.
Williams' exit raises the stakes even more. The November election was already starting to look like a referendum on AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, with both Guzman and Brister facing criticism over backing her more radical proposals – particularly the in-district charter under IDEA Public Schools. Not only does Williams' exit open up another seat for those looking for more board oversight, but it also keys up a presidential fight. Both Vice-President Vince Torres and Trustee Robert Schneider have been talked about as potential replacement for Williams.
Williams said his greatest concern is ensuring that any new board members will be up to speed in time for the next round of facility recommendations, due in December.
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