The Austin Chronicle

AISD Trustee Passes

By Richard Whittaker, July 28, 2015, 4:17pm, Newsdesk

A devastating blow has been struck to the heart of Austin ISD today, as the district confirmed that Trustee Robert Schneider died this morning at the age of 62. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen, and their four children, all of whom are AISD graduates.

A retired researcher into massively parallel computing systems and a 30-year employee of UT-Austin, Schneider joined the board in 2002. He represented District 7, covering the Southwest portion of the district, including parts of Austin and a large area of Travis County. His 13-year tenure, including the fourth term he won in last November's election, made him the longest-serving trustee, having outlasted two superintendents and three board presidents.

Schneider had suffered from health problems for several years, but he refused to let that slow him down. Aside from his regular trustee duties, he also chaired the district's Intergovernmental Relations Committee and the Ad Hoc Committee for Policy and Process Review for Site-Based Decision-Making, as well as serving on the board of directors for the Texas Association of School Boards.

His tenure was marked by a fearsome and fearless dedication to the district. While statistics are too often used to attack public education, Schneider took an analytical approach to defending AISD, and was prepared to take an unpopular position if it meant following the numbers. Schneider would occasionally find himself on the losing side of votes but end up being vindicated by events and public opinion. For example, he was one of the lead "no" votes on handing Allan Elementary over to charter group IDEA Public Schools. This regularly led to conflicts with the administration, particularly with former Superintendent Meria Carstarphen – a fact he wore like a badge of honor. He would also speak unpopular truths to his fellow trustees, and he was especially critical of their lengthy failure to address tax and pay raises.

However, he was also one of the most open and accessible of local elected officials, and his straight-speaking approach won him fans and the respect of his opponents.

Tributes have already come in from his colleagues at the district. Saying he will be "greatly missed," Board President Gina Hinojosa issued a statement that "Trustee Schneider was a tireless champion of public schools and a stalwart advocate for the community he served. His commitment to a superior education for all was inspired by his devotion to his own children and their education. He will be greatly missed."

Superintendent Paul Cruz echoed that statement, writing, "AISD students and families were served well by Trustee Schneider's vision and passion. Our school community has lost a great leader."

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