The Austin Chronicle

Austin ISD: Torres Won't Run Again

By Richard Whittaker, June 26, 2014, 3:30pm, Newsdesk

It was business as usual this afternoon in the Austin ISD board room. President Vince Torres was walking the media through the process of hiring a new superintendent. However, Torres had already announced his big news for the day: After eight and a half years, he will be leaving the board after the November election.

The announcement came via email at 10:42am today: Most of it was about his love for the district, and it was not until the final paragraph that Torres dropped his bombshell. "I am announcing today that my name will not be on the ballot for the District 4 trustee position. I have decided not to run for re-election."

Torres is currently the Associate Director of the Center for Energy & Environmental Resources at the University of Texas, but since 2006 he has served as trustee for AISD District 4, covering North-West Austin, and the Anderson and McCallum vertical teams. In 2012, he took over as board president when Mark Williams stepped down from the board. Now it's Torres turn to get his Monday night's back (and the rest of his week: A conservative estimate by current and former trustees is that board members easily spend 30 or more hours every week on board business, all unpaid, with only one half-time secretary to help them.)

Obviously, this changes the electoral math of AISD dramatically. There are five seats up for election this year. In District 1, Cheryl Bradley has told her fellow trustees that she will not run again, while Robert Schneider (District 7) is in, but expects a challenger. Meanwhile Lori Moya (District 6) and Tamala Barksdale (At-Large Place 9) have still to make public commitments. As for Torres, he was generally considered as politically bullet proof, so the only way he would readily be removed is if he removed himself.

So now there is an unexpected empty seat: So unexpected that Education Austin President Ken Zarifis was unaware of Torres' decision until the public announcement was made. This morning, Zarifis was at council to support a vote for the city to contribute to operating costs for family resource centers (a community-wide benefit for which AISD currently foots the entire bill.) He confirmed that the union will be paying close attention to this new race.

They're unlikely to be alone. Torres, while not exactly a vocal cheerleader for the pro-charter, pro-single sex 'education reform' movement, had consistently voted for those kind of initiatives when presented by former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. Moreover, so had Moya and Bradley. With now two of the most pro-education reform candidates stepping down, and Moya facing a challenge from local consultant Paul Saldana, the potential for a serious change of direction for the board is there.

Moreover, this means the board will be looking for a new president this Winter. Since it's unlikely that a freshman trustee would get the big seat straight off, that leaves a very shot list of contenders. Moya has the tenure, as does Schneider, but then At-Large Position 8 trustee and board Vice-Prseident Gina Hinojosa, even though is only two years into her first term, is another name that has been bandied around.

But Torres isn't gone yet, and as today's briefing proved, he still has some serious lifting to do. Explaining his exit, he said, "Instead of campaigning and being distracted by the politics of a trustee election, in the time I have remaining on the Board I have decided to focus my efforts on selecting the best superintendent possible for AISD."

That starts with a consultation process that will continue through July (including an online survey, public meetings, and a series of in-depth, one-on-one meetings with around 200 major stakeholders.) Significantly, Torres made two major announcements: First, that this time the board will release a short list of two to four finalists, rather than a single name as in previous years: And two, the board hopes to have that short list by September. That means his current board will present those finalists, but it will be his successor that makes the formal job offer.

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