AISD Board Elections Already Heating Up
Two challengers line up for Annette LoVoi's spot on the district's board of trustees
The Austin Independent School District board elections may not be until November, but candidates are already lining up for what may well become a public referendum on AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
Three trustees representing geographic districts are up for re-election: Christine Brister (District 3), Sam Guzmán (District 2), and board President Mark Williams (District 5). However, it is At-Large Position 8, currently held by Annette LoVoi, that is already gathering interest. Two candidates – civil rights lawyer Gina Hinojosa and Sooch Foundation Executive Director Mary Ellen Pietruszynski – have announced their intention to run when filing opens on July 21. And they may only be the beginning of the candidate list, with challengers – driven in part by opposition to Carstarphen's policies – expected for all the incumbents.
A shift in the board could have a significant impact on policy. Over the last year, trustees have regularly split 6-3, with the majority backing Carstarphen on controversial plans like allowing IDEA Public Schools to take over Allan Elementary and Eastside Memorial High School. Pietruszynski, a self-described "empty nester," fits firmly into that pro-administration faction. Last year she cosigned a letter to the Austin American-Statesman titled "Let Meria Carstarphen lead AISD as she sees fit." Speaking before her June 6 campaign kick-off, she called Carstarphen "a strong leader" and echoed the policy espoused by the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce that the board should be involved in the decision-making process "but not to the extent that they are today in the nitty-gritty details."
However, many critics of the current board's lack of oversight of the administration seem to be backing Pietruszynski's opponent. While Pietruszynski's campaign staff is mainly drawn from the charitable and tech sectors, Hinojosa's endorser list features a broad mixture of local elected officials, education advocates, activists from the state and local Democratic party, the Austin Neighborhood Council, and the Occupy movement. In a sign of political lions lying down with lambs, Mayor Lee Leffingwell and his mayoral challenger Brigid Shea have thrown their considerable combined political weight behind Hinojosa. Potentially more importantly, she has already picked up the endorsement of the outgoing LoVoi, who has arguably become Carstarphen's most vocal and constant critic on the board. Hinojosa, a civil rights attorney with a child in AISD, said, "A lot of people believe that the district needs to be better at listening to the community."