AISD Notebook

Shades of a foregone, fractious era came to light at the Monday regular meeting of the AISD Board of Trustees, as board members met until midnight, squabbling with each other and even redrafting language of a rather minor resolution on the dais. And as the weeks and months roll by, the two minority trustees - Diana Casteñeda and Loretta Edelen - continually pit themselves against the rest of the board, especially on matters that affect poor and minority school populations. Several times on Monday, Casteñeda accused the rest of the trustees of not heeding Edelen's and her concerns for no good reason.

For example, Edelen asked that an information item at the end of the board agenda called, "Strategies for Increasing Performance of Disadvantaged Youth," be moved to just before the board's executive session. Board president Kathy Rider declined to grant Edelen's request; Edelen asked for a vote on the matter. Ted Whatley joined Edelen and Casteñeda in the vote to move the item, but the rest of the board declined to hear it out of order. The board then moved through instruction items and its consent agenda, and prepared to recess to discuss personnel matters. This time, Casteñeda asked to promote the item; Rider said no, pointing out that the board had already taken a vote.

The battle continued when trustees emerged from an extended executive session, in which they discussed the appointment of principals for three elementary schools - two of which are in East Austin and plagued by low-performing status. Consuelo Barr was swiftly appointed by the board to Govalle Elementary School; she has 11 years of experience teaching and counseling, and has been an assistant principal, but has never been a principal. Yet neither has Suzanne Cunningham, whom Edelen opposed as the permanent principal of Winn Elementary in Edelen's district. Edelen moved that Cunningham, an 18-year classroom veteran, instead be appointed on an interim basis, until an applicant pool of more experienced candidates could be reviewed for the job. Cunningham was finally approved, 7-2, with the two minority members casting the dissenting votes.

Another noteworthy event occurred earlier in the meeting - the final report from the AISD Citizens' Bond Advisory Committee, which has completed a year's worth of work determining the district's facilities needs. While the committee is not recommending a dollar amount for the bond issue, per se, they have determined that AISD has needs totaling $370.2 million, $332.7 million of which is "must-have."

Two members of the 19-member committee declined to sign off on the report, however. Max Woodfin, appointed by trustee Geoff Rips, and Gavino Fernandez, appointed by Casteñeda, issued a statement outlining their opposition. They believe that the plan for school construction will contribute to urban sprawl, adversely impact environmentally sensitive areas, and resegregate the district. Three of six proposed new elementary schools are slated to be located in Southwest Austin. Woodfin and Fernandez say they do have "positive alternatives" to this situation, if and when the board wants to consider such alternatives. Much, much more will be said on this later.

Note: No board meetings are scheduled for July. The next regular meeting is August 14.n

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