The Austin Chronicle


New Faces, New Agenda

By Rachel Proctor May, May 19, 2006, News

Two trustees kept their seats and four new trustees were elected to the AISD board of trustees Saturday. As several of the candidates ran on a nonsubtle platform of change, the sweep suggests a new chapter is in store for the nine-member board with policy oversight of an 80,000-student district with an increasingly poor and minority demographic.

Of the six seats up for election, incumbent Cheryl Bradley, who represents the northeast, ran unopposed in District 1. Two newcomers also ran unopposed, Vince Torres in the northwest District 4, and Lori Moya in the south-central District 6.

Two of the three competitive races were decided with wide margins. In the southwest District 7, incumbent Robert Schneider handily beat challenger Mel Fuller with 69% of the vote. In at-large Position 8, Karen Dulaney Smith beat Alberto C. González (and write-in candidate Kennard Wright) with 72%. The tightest race pitted nonprofit manager Annette LoVoi, a former ombudsman to Ann Richards with wide support among Austin's political elite, taking 54% of the vote over longtime AISD administrator Ed Leo to fill out the unexpired term of outgoing board president Doyle Valdez, who decided to leave the time-consuming volunteer position two years early.

In each race, the candidates differed more in experience than philosophy. The hard-fought battle over a proposal to close two underenrolled schools in the center city appeared time and again in community forums as an unpopular example of the district's perceived indifference to community concerns (the proposal failed, but only after a tense tie vote). All the candidates emphasized their desire to do a better job of questioning the administration and listening to the community.

"I think there's a higher probability that if that kind of situation comes up with the new board," said Schneider, "this board might be a little more willing to offer its guidance to staff in terms of what they think should be done."

LoVoi agreed that a change in tenor was in the air. "I think our crew is gong to ask the hard questions," she said.

One of the board's first tasks is to choose its officers, and whether they go for a relentless questioner (data hound Mark Williams has been floated as a contender) or a trustee with a history of strong support for proposals by Superintendent Pat Forgione will provide an early indication of where the board is headed. Either way, AISD watchers are pleased at the level of experience and commitment the new team will bring to the dais.

"I think we're going to have a phenomenal school board," said Louis Malfaro of Education Austin, the AISD teachers' union. "We've elected some really impressive, smart, hardworking people."

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