Profiles of the contestants
Rudy Montoya: An IT worker for the state, Montoya is running unopposed for a third term representing Southeast Austin. He counts among his most important achievements helping to pass the Accounts for Learning program to help develop curriculum and promote community involvement in low-income schools (its budget was cut last year) and helping to reduce class sizes. In addition to passing the bond and increasing student achievement, Montoya says that during the coming term he wants to improve teacher recruitment and retention though not necessarily through fat salaries. "We're looking seriously at this and want to ensure the staff are compensated well in terms of what we can pay. But compensation is not only the financial part, but also benefit and quality of life issues. We need to look at how the whole combination contributes to retention and recruitment."
Johna Edwards: This early childhood teacher at Grace Covenant, a North Austin Christian school, is running unopposed for a second term. She is concerned with accommodating the increase in bilingual or Spanish-speaking students and with teacher compensation, though she doubts that significant raises are on the horizon. "Maybe we can't pay you what we think you're worth, but just the discussion around it just reiterates that you are what matters," she said. She is open to the idea of tying teacher compensation to student performance, although with significant caveats. "If you're just going by a test grade, no," she said, explaining that a fair measuring system would take into account students' histories before they came into a teacher's classroom. She also wants AISD to do more to tackle obesity, and would like to encourage AISD voters to go beyond ballot-casting and get personally involved in local schools through mentoring programs.
Mark Williams: The only candidate who filed for the Central Austin seat being vacated by Ingrid Taylor, Williams is an accountant taking time off from a job at Dell. He's the president of the Highland Park PTA, and was president-elect at the O. Henry Middle School PTA, where one of his three kids attends, but stepped down to run for District 5. "It was a tough decision because I like to be involved in my kids' own schools, but the school board gives me the opportunity to get involved with a lot more kids than my own," he said. Williams wants to build ties with community leaders to support the bond proposal, and to develop middle school programs that better prepare students for high school and higher education. This includes making sure the curriculum is a rich one that goes beyond teaching to the test. Finally, he supports improving teacher compensation, though he is as daunted as the rest of the candidates as to how to make that work within budget realities. "It's tough because it's a fixed-revenue environment, but unhappy teachers don't make for an optimal learning environment."
At-Large Position 8
Doyle Valdez: Valdez, board president and one of two at-large representatives, is running for a third term. He is most proud of helping to build a harmonious board-superintendent team that communicates well, which he sees as essential to building support in the community for the bond package. He believes that curriculum alignment and benchmark testing have put the district on the right track, as demonstrated by the third-grade reading tests. "I think our teachers know how to teach and aren't just teaching to the test," he said. "Benchmark testing is additional work, but our teachers have done a fantastic job, and we're seeing our students succeeding." Compensation is a concern, but he stresses the importance of factoring in working environment. "We've had a lot of teachers say that reducing classroom size [which the board did this year] is like getting a pay raise."
Jennifer Gale: Gale first ran for school board as a high school student in Madison, Wis., in 1977, and in the last decade she has run unsuccessfully in at least 15 local races. In 1998 she ran against Valdez and won 34.2% of the vote. Gale envisions sweeping change for the district, including desegregation efforts, opening a culinary institute, preparing students for writing tests through mandatory journaling, teaching all students Spanish, and a scholarship program that combats the dropout rate by paying the first year of college for every graduate. "Students need to see the value of having that diploma," she said. She also would champion better teacher pay and increased mental health services. All of it adds up to a radical and idealistic package to reinvent AISD. "My approach is entirely different from any other trustee I've seen."