Who's On First?

AISD makes political faux pas

Rep. Naishtat in conversation with AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen
Rep. Naishtat in conversation with AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen (Photo by John Anderson)

The public fury over the potential closure of nine AISD schools has become an object lesson in how not to break bad news to people. But the Jan. 13 meeting at the Tony Burger Center had a double misstep in the district's PR offensive: One that snubbed an old ally and opened the door to old critics.

The original plan for the evening was to allow Austin Democrat Rep. Elliott Naishtat – one of the foremost advocates for social programs in the legislature – to speak first during the citizen's comment section of the evening. But at the last minute, the decision was made to shake up the running order and pick names at random, leaving the dean of the Travis County delegation twiddling his thumbs.

So who got the mic first? A concerned parent? A teacher facing unemployment? No, Del Valle ISD trustee Richard Franklin, who proposed that AISD think about handing over Eastside Memorial High School to the East Austin College Prep Academy, run by the Southwest Key non-profit.

The fact that Eastside isn't on the draft potential closure list wasn't the strangest thing about this incident.

Franklin omitted three facts from his speech. First, that he's the president of Youth Unlimited, a for-profit motivational and mentoring firm that already works with AISD*. Second, that he was sitting with senior staff from Southwest Key, including founder Juan Sanchez. And third, that he's on the board of a neighboring school district. If an AISD trustee had turned up at a Del Valle or Southwest Key meeting unannounced, it's hard to see that this would not cause a fuss.

This wasn't a one-off: The night before, at the meeting at the Delco Center, it was the turn of East Austin prep's Parent Council President Janie Flores to ask for Eastside High to be handed over at minimal rent.

The project was presented as "an out of the box proposal", but it was actually straight off the peg. Southwest Key has had its eye on the former Johnston High campus since 2007. The non-profit's leadership has also been quite willing to savage AISD to the media, and snubbed the district rather than work on a combined Promise Neighborhoods grant application. *Richard Franklin asked to note that while he does work with AISD, it is on a voluntary, pro bono basis.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

AISD Announces Start of School Year Will Be Online
AISD Announces Start of School Year Will Be Online
First three weeks will have no in-class instruction

Kimberley Jones, July 14, 2020

Unpacking AISD's Plan for School Closures on <i>The Austin Chronicle Show</i>
Unpacking AISD's Plan for School Closures on The Austin Chronicle Show
"School Changes" unveiled, plus Michael Ray Charles' new solo show

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 13, 2019

More Elliott Naishtat
House District 49 Update
House District 49 Update
Hinojosa campaign fast out of gate for Dem primary

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 28, 2015

Elliott Naishtat Retiring, Dems Brace for Primary
Naishtat Retiring
Update: six candidates already filed to replace veteran rep

Richard Whittaker, Dec. 10, 2015

More by Richard Whittaker
AFF Review: <i>Film Fest</i>
AFF Review: Film Fest
Film making comedy is painfully on point

Oct. 29, 2020

AFF Interview:
AFF Interview: "Gabriela"
Natalia Kaniasty takes a look at a job you never think about

Oct. 29, 2020


AISD, Elliott Naishtat, Austin Independent School District, Toney Burger Center, Southwest Key, Richard Franklin

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle