AISD: One for the Money
District 1: Edmund "Ted" Gordon, David "D" Thompson
District 6: Paul Saldaña, Kate Mason-Murphy
At-Large 9: Kendall Pace, Hillary Procknow
Unlike City Council, where a deluge of new faces takes power in January, the Austin Independent School District board is in a slow, but equally landmark, transition.
Three years ago, votes often turned on a 5-4 split, usually in favor of whatever was the administration's position. Following the 2012 election, the balance tilted the other way, with a number of controversial votes going 5-4 against the wishes of then-Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. In fact, many regard that election as a key motivator for her abrupt departure in April.
With Julie Cowan replacing board president Vince Torres in District 4, and Robert Schneider holding his District 7 seat with 53% of the vote in the Nov. 4 first round, pro-public ed groups like the teacher and staff union Education Austin, are confident that 5-4 bulwark stands. Now they are wondering, how much can it be re-enforced?
Fortunately for them, two of the three seats in the run-off are being contested by candidates with strong anti-charter, anti-voucher stances, and a more demanding attitude concerning relations between the board and the superintendent. In District 6, longtime education advocate and PR consultant Paul Saldaña faces former Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders teacher Kate Mason-Murphy, while in the At-Large Position 9 race, District Advisory Council member Kendall Pace opposes UT-Austin program director Hillary Procknow. Among all four, there's more common ground than oppositional rhetoric. Although Pace and Saldaña swept the institutional endorsements, many of their supporters have signaled they would be OK with their opponents winning, and vice versa.
The big outlier is in District 1, where UT's African and African Diaspora Studies Department Chair Edmund "Ted" Gordon faces Austin Stone Community Church minister David "D" Thompson. Major concerns have been raised about Thompson's connections to the education reform movement and charter groups – concerns amplified by the fact he was a co-founder of the KIPP Austin charter school. And Thompson's outside money has allowed him to carpet bomb district voters with mailers, door-hangers (and their volunteers), and phone solicitations.
Gordon had a six-point lead on Nov. 4 (34.6-28.5%) but there is still potential for volatility. AISD, at the bottom of the ballot, was scarcely a big turnout driver on Nov. 4. Now the question is, how small will run-off turnout be, due to the lack of other races on the ballot? Notably, both Council districts (2 and 9) that make up AISD District 6 were settled in the first round, so that's one less reason for voters to return to the polls.
The question now is, how much money will the big players throw at this final stage? Relative newcomer Austin Kids First was sitting on a $50,000 war chest just before Nov. 4 – but was challenged by Education Austin president Ken Zarifis for failing to put real money into Gordon's campaign, even after D.C.-based, pro-reform group Leadership for Educational Equity sank thousands into Thompson's run (see "Re-Forming AI$D," Nov. 28). Will District 1 become the big money race? Expect close scrutiny of the next round of campaign finance reports, due Dec. 8.