The Newest in Trustees
AISD swearing-in suggests both comity and dissension
Out with the old, in with the new. It wasn't just City Council swearing in new members on Tuesday night. Down the road at Austin Independent School District headquarters, the latest batch of trustees took the stage as their predecessors said goodbye.
Out went four familiars, in come four new names. In District 1, covering Northeast Austin, 12-year veteran Cheryl Bradley was replaced by UT-Austin department head Edmund "Ted" Gordon. Across to the Northwest, District 4 incumbent, two-term veteran, and outgoing board president Vince Torres handed over his seat to Julie Cowan. Down south in District 6, fellow two-termer Lori Moya is succeeded by Paul Saldaña. Finally, Tamala Barksdale vacated her At-Large Position 9 seat in favor of Kendall Pace. The only re-elected incumbent was District 7's Robert Schneider, who held his seat for a fourth term.
The recognition of outgoing trustees was briefly delayed, as Trustees Moya and Bradley were off the dais, so Interim Superintendent (and sole finalist for the permanent position) Paul Cruz stalled for time before their final farewells. Not that they will all simply disappear; Bradley told her colleagues, "I am leaving this board, but I'm not leaving this city." Pointing to the lectern for Citizens' Communication, she added, "That podium will be right there."
Next on deck, the new members were technically sworn in by AISD Director of Student Services Zoe Griffith. However, two members took the formal oath of office earlier in the day, so the evening event could be more symbolic. Schneider was re-inaugurated courtesy of his daughter Andrea, while Saldaña was given the honor by his political mentor, former mayor Gus Garcia. A former trustee as well, Garcia told Saldaña, "The hard work's about to start, so get ready."
That work began with the first order of business: selecting the new board officers. Schneider – the only board member to have served even one full term – warned that there was no "cultivation of leadership" in AISD. Meanwhile, District 2 Trustee Jayme Mathias had his own concerns that the board lacks sufficient self-analysis. Trustees then withdrew for two hours of behind-the-scenes discussion – never a sign of equanimity. After emerging, District 5's Amber Elenz nominated vice president and At-Large Place 8 incumbent Gina Hinojosa to be president: she was confirmed on a 7-2 margin, with Schneider and District 3's Ann Teich voting nay. In turn, Elenz took Hinojosa's old post, with Schneider as the lone holdout. The sole unanimous vote was to bring back Mathias as board secretary.
Now comes the real work. If Citizens' Communication was any indication, then the concerns of East Austin, especially for Gordon's Northeast seat, will continue to dominate the thinking of the new board. Multiple speakers, including PRIDE of the Eastside spokesman Vincent Tovar, warned that the district must concentrate on equity issues, especially on campuses like Eastside Memorial. And Education Austin President Ken Zarifis told the board, "The way we treat District 1 speaks volumes about who we are as a district."