The Austin Chronicle

AISD Mulls D7's Empty Seat

Pressure group urges board to select former D7 candidate Yasmin Wagner

By Richard Whittaker, August 21, 2015, News

The Austin ISD Board is moving forward with appointing a candidate to replace late District 7 Trustee Robert Schneider. And powerful forces are already lining up behind the candidate he beat in last November's election.

On Aug. 17, AISD trustees met in a work session to discuss how to fill Schneider's seat, and confirmed they will use an appointment process to find a replacement. They'll meet again on Aug. 25 to take recommendations from their public engagement subcommittee on the exact structure for applications and community outreach, with final selection penciled in for the end of September. The appointee will only hold the post until Nov. 2016, when the seat will go before voters. The elected candidate will then fill out the remaining two years of Schneider's term, and the seat will be back on the 2018 ballot.

However, on Aug. 15, before the board set the timeline for setting a timeline, controversial pressure group Austin Kids First sent an email to its supporters, asking them to support Yasmin Wagner, who lost to Schneider in last November's election, 48% to 52%, in spite of a $40,000 investment in her campaign by AKF.

Behind the scenes, there's a certain sense of dramatic irony about this state of affairs. Part of the board's reasoning for appointing a replacement, rather than holding a special election, was a concern that special interest groups like AKF – consistently accused of being education reform movement AstroTurf – could skew the turnout and the result. Now it seems they're trying the same thing through petitioning the board. Wagner confirmed that she's interested in the seat, and argues that she comes to the position with the support of nearly half the voters. She said, "For me, the outcome of the election never tempered my commitment to the future of AISD and being able to serve in some way."

She has the backing of at least one board member, as Trustee Ted Gordon has said it should go to her. She also has the support of last year's other candidate: Theresa Bas­tian, who filed but then pulled out and threw her support behind Wagner. Bastian said she had been contacted by supporters to put her name into contention, but "right now it's not the right timing for me, my family, or my business." Again, she's falling in behind Wagner, saying, "It's not because she ran last time, it's because she's ready to do the job."

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