The Austin Chronicle

How Much for a Trustee Seat?

Local and outside money moving into AISD races

By Richard Whittaker, October 31, 2014, News

In an election cycle with tens of millions of dollars floating around at the statewide level, a few thousand bucks seems like a rounding error. But in Austin Independent School District elections, that's the difference between solvency and a vanity candidacy.

The final filings (eight-day-out) in this year's trustee elections see a strange shift in overlapping allegiances. In 2012, teachers' union Education Austin and newly formed PAC Austin Kids First were polar opposites, with AKF backing the pro-reform candidates, and Ed Austin behind the more progressive names. This time around, the groups have found a little common ground. However, with education policy an open war between advocates for traditional neighborhood schools, and those pushing to dismantle a cornerstone of American civic life, there's still plenty of space for conflict. And there are also big questions about why Teach for America's 501(c)4 candidate training spinoff, Leadership for Educational Equity – a national PAC connected to the charter movement and attacks on professional educators – has suddenly taken an interest in East Austin schools.

District 1

Ted Gordon: $8,176 raised, $9,846 cash on hand

Stanton Strickland: $525 raised, $95 on hand

David Thompson: $14,577 raised, $6,014 on hand

Andy Trimino: $500 raised, $2 on hand

The $3,000 UT-Austin Professor Gordon received last reporting cycle from teachers union Education Austin's PAC is nearly matched this time by $2,750 from Austin Kids First. He's also pulling in healthy support from familiar names around the district, including Place 9 incumbent Tamala Barksdale, former superin­tend­ent Pat Forgione, and former AISD spokesperson Roxanne Evans.

Locally, Thompson has pulled in a lot of support, both financial and in the form of doorknockers and phonebankers, among his colleagues and fellow congregants at Austin Stone Community Church. But what's raising eyebrows is his out-of-state backers, including Teach for America Vice President Zach Perin and Marketing Director Emily Leahey. TFA has seemingly a lot on the line with Thompson: Leadership for Educational Equity stumped up $1,589 (in-kind) for "candidate coaching." That's on top of $2,463 from the group in the last reporting cycle, when there was another even more surprising name: Ex-CNN anchor turned education union buster Campbell Brown sent Thompson $650. On the stump, Thompson is eager to talk about his teaching experience, but reticence to mention that it was with TFA and charter group KIPP; this cash puts that issue back in the spotlight.

Bringing up the rear, Texas Department of Insurance Assistant Commissioner Strick­land's campaign has fizzled out, while former Pflugerville ISD educator Trimino has burned through the $500 he got from the Associa­tion of Texas Professional Educators – his sole contribution.

District 2

Julie Cowan: $12,825 raised, $12,362 on hand

Karen Flanagan: $75 raised, $405 on hand

Flanagan's campaign never really gathered any fundraising momentum, but this report puts extra emphasis on Cowan's contributors. She received $2,750 (cash and in-kind) from AKF, but her biggest single contribution came in the form of a $5,000 check from Ellyn Yacktman. If that name seems familiar, it's because she was one of the biggest donors to Brigid Shea's county commissioner primary race. That was not without controversy, since Yacktman's husband and son were regular contributors to hardline conservatives, as well as California's Prop. 8 campaign to ban gay marriage. (See "Campaigns Trade Barbs," Feb. 2.)

District 4

Kate Mason Murphy: $0 raised, $0 on hand

Paul Saldaña: $1,100 raised, $7,491 on hand

Monica Sanchez: $395 raised, $125 on hand

Boosted last cycle by a $5,000 contribution from the Education Austin PAC, and supplemented by contributions from recognizable names such as Shea and political consultant Mark Littlefield, Saldaña has maintained a clear fundraising lead over his nearest challenger, former Austin Council of PTAs chair Sanchez. True to her word, former AISD teacher Mason Murphy is running, essentially, a zero-cash campaign.

District 7

Robert Schneider: $2,650 raised, $2,549 on hand

Yasmin Wagner: $9,725 raised, $7,427 on hand

Incumbent Schneider comes in with a $2,000 boost from Education Austin, plus $400 from former AISD trustee and ex-mayor Carole Keeton. In a normal low-stakes AISD election, that might be enough, but this time around it leaves him severely lagging behind Wagner – most of whose money came in a massive payday from Austin Kids First, which dumped $8,750 (cash and in-kind) into her campaign.

At-Large Position 9

Kendall Pace: $45,200 raised, $4,795 on hand

Kazique Prince: $4,605 raised, $12,186 on hand

The biggest single campaign contribution in this race – and maybe in any local election – is the $36,250 in two checks and an in-kind contribution to businesswoman Pace from Austin Kids First. However, going in to the final few days, business and race-relations consultant Prince has a bigger war chest, most notably assisted by a $3,000 cash injection from the Travis County Democratic Party. He also received a last-minute boost as third candidate Hillary Procknow, who has basically renounced her campaign, endorsed his run.

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