AISD Board to Lengthen Carstarphen Contract Tonight
As early voting starts, outgoing board extending deal to June 2015
By Richard Whittaker, 7:03AM, Mon. Oct. 22, 2012
Austin ISD's board of trustees does love its consent agenda. That's how they started the process of handing Allan Elementary over to IDEA Public Schools, and that's how they'll be extending Superintendent Meria Carstarphen's contract until 2015 tonight. Since her current contract doesn't expire until June 30, 2014, what's the big rush?
With no fanfare, this is one of 19 items on the consent agenda for the meeting tonight, Oct. 22, at 7pm at the Carruth Administration Complex, 1111 W. Sixth.
Remember this: The board's only two real jobs are approving the budget and regulating the superintendent. Last year, the board voted to extend Carstarphen's contract, set to expire in June 2013, for an extra year. That was before the final stages of the facility master plan debacle, and well before her office has ram-rodded IDEA down the community's throat.
In that context, one might wonder why the board is having no public discussion about extended her lucrative contract for yet another year?
Moreover, why would they do this on the same day early voting begins in the election for a board to replace them? Is it really the role of a lame duck board to tie the hands of an incoming board?
Or is this something to do with the strange little meme doing the rounds (from the usual Carstarphen supporters) that the most important thing in the district is continuity. One C-Backer told me the other day that they were afraid a new board might want rid of the current superintendent (something none of them have said, by the way.) Their fear was that an unstable board would scare off any potential replacement. Oh, and before you ask? Yes, 'unstable board' means one that wouldn't vote their way. Apparently the current six-three pro-Carstarphen board is perfectly fine. Six-three in favor of more board oversight? That would destabilize the district. Apparently.
Update 1pm: Board President Mark Williams tried to put this into context. He said, "If we didn't have the election coming up, it would probably be a non-issue."
The vote comes after the superintendent's evaluation, he said. "We probably should have got it done in September, so really we're a month late." Workload was a factor, and they were waiting on the full performance data, so they had to wait for the first deadline. Williams added, "I'm sure I would have been criticized about putting on a non-regular meeting."
So why not leave it until the new board was elected? Williams argued that it was the current board's responsibility, since they had done the evaluation. He also proposed that it could not be left any longer, as it might signify a lack of confidence in Carstarphen. "You could say that you've got 20 months left, but there are signals that you send politically and publicly."
Update 11am: Trustee Robert Schneider is arguably Carstarphen's most pointed critic on the board just told me that "I am disturbed that it's on consent."
He explained that the board has just completed the annual superintendent's evaluation. He said, "It got dragged out exceptionally long this year because no-one wanted to work on it in June, and the board didn't just want to take it up in July."
He is baffled as to why the board is stuffing this through now, especially since there is nothing tying an extension to her evaluation. "She has a considerable amount of time left in her contract."
As for placing the measure on the consent agenda, he said clear that there was not consensus amongst the board. He also suspects there will be a motion to remove it and place it on the discussion agenda. He said, "I'm not sure there will be a second, but I hope there will be."
Update 9am: Just got off the phone with Education Austin president Ken Zarifis, who was baffled as to why the district would force what is, with 20 months left on Carstarphen's current contract, a non-issue. He saw the hand of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. That body, which has been almost ruthless in its support of Carstarphen, has been trying to set a narrative in place that some candidates – especially Jayme Mathias, Ann Teich, Gina Hinojosa and Charlie Jackson – are running solely to kick Carstarphen out. "That's just not true," he said, and he was frustrated that the current board was tying the hands of any future board, and setting a needlessly antagonistic tone in their relationship with the administration.
More when we hear from the board