AISD: Barksdale, Cowan Go to Run-off

Voters in Austin, other school districts choose new trustees

In the five-way at-large race, AISD candidates Tamala Barksdale (above) and Julie Cowan (below) advanced to a June 12 run-off.
In the five-way at-large race, AISD candidates Tamala Barksdale (above) and Julie Cowan (below) advanced to a June 12 run-off. (Photo by Jana Birchum)

The May 8 ballot was supposed to be one of the highest-profile Austin Independent School District board of trustees elections in recent history. Shame no one told the voters, as the district could only manage a 2.5% turnout.

AISD: Barksdale, Cowan Go to Run-off
Photo by Jana Birchum

Perhaps surprisingly, there was a bigger turnout for unchallenged board Vice President Vince Torres in District 4 (North­west) than in the contested election in District 6 (South), where board secretary Lori Moya fended off a challenge by juvenile corrections officer Glenn P. Mayes II with only 1,373 total votes cast. There was greater interest in District 7 (Southwest), where incumbent Robert Schneider narrowly survived a major challenge from former teacher Warren Faulk­ner. The three returning incumbents will be joined by returning District 1 trustee Cheryl Bradley, who, like Torres, was unopposed.

That leaves the unresolved question of Position 9, the sole at-large position on the ballot. Unsurprisingly, there was no definite victor in the five-way race. Tamala Barksdale led the field with 41%, followed by Julie Cow­an with 37% (with almost all of that margin coming on election day; early voting was a dead heat). As neither candidate broke the magic 50% barrier, the two return to the campaign trail for a June 12 run-off. The biggest shock may be how low the turnout was in this at-large race. Retiring incumbent Karen Dulaney Smith took the seat in 2006 with 24,818 votes out of a total of 34,698. But that was with the mayoral and City Council races also on the ballot, along with a slate of controversial referendum questions. This year, with just the AISD and Austin Community College races on the ballot, total turnout plummeted to 8,596 for Position 9. Both Barksdale and Cowan have confirmed that they will stay in the race. Now the question is whether either candidate can motivate their voters to turn out again.

AISD was not the only local school district on the ballot. There was major upheaval in Leander ISD, where Place 3 incumbent Elizabeth Frey was ousted by former Place 7 trustee Pamela Waggoner (who ran an abortive state House campaign as a Republican challenger to Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, in 2008). There was a similar upset in Eanes ISD, with board secretary Mike Monnig ousted by Eanes Elementary Parent Teacher Organization President Colleen Jones. In Lake Travis ISD, Lake Hills Church pastor Alex Alexander defeated retired NASA engineer Hamil Cooper to replace outgoing board President Susan Tolles. In Del Valle's sole contested race, incumbent board secretary David L. Mellenbruch narrowly edged out tax analyst Gina Wagner.

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Austin ISD, election, Tamala Barksdale, Julie Cowan

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