How times change in the Austin Independent School District. Four years ago, there were four AISD board trustee seats on the ballot, and only one was contested. That's not so surprising: Trustees are unpaid, work long hours, and get little to no thanks for it. This year, there are four seats up for election again, but all four have already attracted high-stakes challenges – driven, in no small part, by community anger over some policies pushed by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen.
The surprise departure of board President Mark Williams after eight years not only opens his Place 5 seat, but also ensures a power struggle in the new school year over who will lead the board as president. Both current Vice President Vince Torres – generally a Carstarphen supporter – and District 7 trustee Robert Schneider – one of her most consistent critics – have been cited as possible contenders. Election day is Nov. 6, with early voting running Oct. 22-Nov. 2.
Here's a look at how the board races are shaping up:
• District 2: Incumbent Sam Guzmán has become the target of much East Austin fury over his vocal support for turning over operations of Allan Elementary and Eastside Memorial High to charter operation IDEA Public Schools. He has expressed some buyer's remorse over his IDEA vote, but many East Austinites – including some of his own former supporters – have lined up behind Jayme Mathias, senior pastor of Holy Family American Catholic Church.
• District 3: First termer and board secretary Christine Brister has been another safe vote for the Carstarphen agenda, generally following Torres' lead. Now she faces a challenge from Ann Teich, a 27-year veteran teacher and vice president of the North Austin Civic Association.
• District 5: The dance for Williams' central city seat has been tentative. He had intended to run only if no one stepped up to replace him, meaning he couldn't stand down without leaving an empty seat. Enter outgoing Austin Council of Parent-Teachers Associations President Amber Elenz, who was prepared to run, but not against Williams. Soon after she filed, Charlie Jackson, CEO of local IT efficiency consultancy Acceleros, announced he was also joining the race.
• At-large position 8: The departure of Carstarphen critic Annette LoVoi has spurred a fight between two well-connected heavy hitters. Mary Ellen Pietruszynski is executive director of the Sooch Foundation, a major donor to several AISD projects. She has publicly praised Carstarphen's leadership style, and so far her major support has come from the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. Local progressive forces are lining up behind civil rights lawyer (and daughter of Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa) Gina Hinojosa.
Copyright © 2021 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.