Have Mercy

AISD votes no on 'exigency'

Austin ISD board Vice President Vincent Torres
Austin ISD board Vice President Vincent Torres (Photo by John Anderson)

The Austin Independent School District has rejected a declaration of financial exigency – for now. On Monday, Feb. 22, the AISD board of trustees broke down the middle with a 5-3 vote, plus one abstention, to adopt a less dramatic but still significant program change instead.

The proposal for exigency – which would allow the termination of staff contracts – was made by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen and her staff as a way to cut costs by eliminating 113 staff positions and restructuring several departments. While these goals were possible with just declaring a program change, staff proposed that doing so under exigency would allow work force reductions with less legal exposure if challenged by an employee. Board President Mark Williams and trustees Robert Schneider and Christine Brister – who all backed the administration's exigency proposal – voted against just using program change. They were outvoted by Vice President Vincent Torres, board secretary Lori Moya, and trustees Sam Guzman, Annette LoVoi, and Karen Dulaney Smith. While not rejecting the possibility of revisiting the issue, Torres echoed Guzman's fear that the administration had not considered the impact of exigency when he called it "the ace card," to be used sparingly. Smith went further and said that rather than freeing the district's hands, exigency was a one-off radical step that could delay serious strategic planning.

So the exigency proposal was effectively tabled. But it was a close thing, and the final vote arguably did not reflect Moya's actual opinion. Although Moya had introduced the motion to adopt the program change, she then voted against it, splitting the board 4-4 – until, in a clear sign of how rare a divided board is, Guzman pointed out that she was violating board rules which require her to vote in favor of a motion she proposes.

The one abstention, Cheryl Bradley, told her fellow trustees that she would support whatever decision they made. She was, however, deeply unhappy with the process of stuffing such an important vote at the end of an already packed agenda, which included setting boundaries for a new elementary school in Southwest Austin and a presentation of the state's Academic Excel­lence Indi­cator System's annual district and campus performance report. "We started this budget discussion at 10 o'clock," she said, "and we're making this decision two hours later. Lord have mercy."

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