Sump vs. Wagner for AISD Board
Two longtime AISD residents compete for vacant D7 seat
Two candidates are vying to be appointed to the empty District 7 seat on Austin ISD's board of trustees. Both have long histories of volunteerism at both the campus and districtwide level. But with trustees scheduled to make a decision on whom to appoint by Sept. 28, Austinites won't have long to learn about who will represent them for the next year.
The seat became vacant in July with the death of incumbent Robert Schneider, the board's longest-serving member. Trustees gave applicants until Sept. 8 to file if they were interested in being an interim appointee until voters pick a new trustee in 2016. When the filing closed, only two names were in contention: city employee Yasmin Wagner, and state accountant Dale Sump (a third candidate initially filed paperwork, but then withdrew; the district will not be releasing that person's name).
Wagner's biggest plus may be that she ran for this office last year, and got 48% of the vote against Schneider. The greatest weight against her is that she lost that race. Wagner argues that the heat of campaign battle gave her a better understanding of Southwest Austin, one that she has renewed since Schneider's passing. She said, "I've set foot in just about every District 7 campus over the last few weeks."
The converse question for Sump is, if he was so interested in representing District 7, why didn't he run previously? The answer is simple: He was one of the majority of voters who backed Schneider. He said, "We were all on board with Robert, and I never would have thought of [running] as long as he was on board."
Sump is a 30-year resident of AISD, 27 of those in District 7, and Schneider's loss was a personal one. Their families lived on the same road; their kids played together and all attended AISD campuses. When Sump was a Bowie Band Booster Club committee chair, Schneider asked him to serve on the Performing Arts Center Task Force, overseeing one of the district's biggest noncampus investments in decades. In 2010, Schneider appointed him to a vacancy on the Community Bond Oversight Committee (CBOC), reappointing him to that post in 2013. A year later, Schneider added him to the new Performing Arts Center Naming Committee, completing the task he started in the PAC Task Force.
Wagner, a corporate manager at the city of Austin's Communications and Public Information Office, is a 20-year resident of AISD, with five years in District 7. She got her introduction to AISD politics through serving on the PTA boards for Kiker Elementary and Gorzycki Middle. That served as a springboard to the Austin Council of PTAs, on which she represented the Bowie vertical team. In 2013, she started a two-year term on the AISD Boundary Advisory Committee, representing Kiker Elementary.
While Wagner remains the alternative to Schneider, Sump positions himself as more of a continuation. In his application to the district, his top three priorities for District 7 were three topics familiar as Schneider's own positions: relieving the massive overcrowding in the area's cramped campuses; developing a magnet or academy campus to echo other districts' magnet, arts academy, and International Baccalaureate programs (all currently located in North Austin); and enhancing vocational opportunities.
Another way in which Sump would be a successor to the notoriously data-oriented Schneider is when it comes to number-crunching. Sump is a certified public accountant, with 25 years working for the UT System, and more recently, five years managing oil and gas royalty auditors at the Texas General Land Office. By contrast, Wagner was treasurer of local nonprofit Family Connections in 2010 when it declared bankruptcy after Executive Director Louanne Aponte embezzled over $1 million. While the charity folded, Wagner said she is proud of how its board handled the fallout. She explained that she had only been treasurer for a month, and had not even gone through full training, before Aponte's malfeasance was uncovered. While other board members quit, she stayed to help ensure staff were paid and client medical files were properly handled. She called the experience "the strongest training grounds I could ever have as a board member because it educated me in all the ways that a nonprofit is vulnerable."
One key area in which Sump and Wagner agree is that overcrowding is the top issue in District 7. While many city center campuses face chronic underenrollment, every AISD school in the Southwest is at or over capacity; seven of its 13 campuses are among the 23 campuses frozen to transfers in the 2015-16 school year. Wagner warned there are imminent problems at the elementary level, with almost 1,000 students at both Baranoff and Kiker. But the more immediate issue is at the high school level. Wagner's 2014 campaign against Schneider was predicated on his failure to secure a location for a new high school, even though voters approved $32 million for a land purchase in the 2008 bond election. Sump, as a CBOC member, is intimately aware of the increasing pressure to buy property, and how much less $32 million gets you now than in 2008. He said, "You're having a hard time finding land to put a campus on."
If overcrowding is one elephant in District 7's room, the other is that this appointment is for only 14 months. When the board failed to come to a consensus on whether or not to call a quick special election, they missed the window of opportunity to get on the Nov. 2015 ballot, leading to this appointment process. That just deferred the race until the next general election, scheduled for Nov. 2016, though whoever is selected this time around will have the advantage of running in a year's time as an unelected incumbent.
When the Travis County Commissioners Court appointed former mayor Bruce Todd to finish out the unexpired term of Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt, it was under the proviso that he not run for the seat with the advantage of incumbency. However, the AISD board has not put such a restriction on applicants. Wagner supports the district's approach and its potential for greater continuity, saying, "Having three trustees in three years isn't really serving the best interests of the district." Sump said he hasn't even thought about 2016 so far, and stressed that he is simply responding to the immediate space on the board. He said, "This hasn't been a longtime decision. This has come up because I got so much encouragement from folks that know me."
The board has established a timeline of public meetings with the two candidates, beginning with a series of public meetings this week moderated by the League of Women Voters:
Thu., Sept. 17, noon, at Covington Middle School, 3700 Convict Hill
Sat., Sept. 19, 11am, at Baranoff Elementary, 12009 Buckingham Gate
The board will then interview candidates the week of Sept. 21, and make a decision Sept. 28.