AISD Board: Next up for Saldaña’s Vacant Seat
Appointee imminent, the ballot for next year’s election is already overflowed
Mariachis, a choir, and a plaque: The Austin Independent School District board room was surprisingly raucous Monday, April 24, for Vice President Paul Saldaña's final meeting before he quit. Now the search is on to appoint his successor before summer vacation. Whoever's appointed will fill the remaining 14 months of Saldaña's term.
The board had time to ready his exit. The District 6 trustee (representing Southeast Austin) announced on April 7 that this, his 100th meeting, would be his last. Saldaña said he intends to "refocus my efforts to spend more time with my family." While that sounds like a political cliche, Saldaña had often noted in the past that the extraordinary time demands of the board – often over 40 hours per week – had cut into his personal and professional endeavors.
In a final moment of political ribbing Monday evening, Saldaña's fellow trustees forced him to propose the motion for his own resignation, before accepting his resignation on a 6-0 vote. (Trustees Jayme Mathias and Cindy Anderson were absent; Ted Gordon was away from the dais at the moment.) Board President Kendall Pace said she would accept Saldaña's exit with "great sadness, disappointment, mixed feelings, and I'm going to pout about this." Gordon, now the only minority trustee, called Saldaña "in many ways the conscience of this board." Praising his departing colleague's pivotal role in developing a districtwide equity self-assessment and in-house (and historically underutilized) business program, he told Saldaña: "It has been an honor and privilege to serve with you."
Platitudes dispensed, trustees now endeavor to fill the vacant seat. The board has already faced pressure – first, overt calls for an appointment, rather than a special election; and second, suggestions that the board needs to keep at least some Hispanic representation. In an April 24 letter backing the appointment process, City Council members Delia Garza, Pio Renteria, and Greg Casar asked that trustees "strongly consider finding an advocate for the Latino community." Equally, the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce called for an appointment "reflective of the community that it serves, which is the Hispanic population."
There is recent precedent for appointing rather than electing an interim successor. In 2015, the board appointed Yasmin Wagner to finish the unexpired term of the late Robert Schneider. But that situation was slightly different: Schneider's term was supposed to run through 2018, but the board only appointed Wagner (who had just lost to Schneider in a tight two-horse race in 2014) to a curtailed term, and she had to run for re-election in 2016. Saldaña's term is scheduled to end next year. However, as the district is planning to put a bond to voters this coming November, they could conceivably have placed his vacant seat on that same ballot. Trustee Amber Elenz said that she would prefer to go down that path, but with the high risk of a costly run-off election looming, she backed the appointment plan.
The board has now set a May 8 deadline for applications for the vacancy, with a final selection scheduled for June 12. Eight names are already in contention: Former GAHCC chair Geronimo Rodriguez; Becker Elementary PTA president Maria Cantú Hexsel; Texas Democratic Party deputy chair Manny Garcia; former IDEA Allan principal and current Foundation Communities St. Elmo Neighborhood Project director Alejandro Delgado; retired firefighter Randy Moreno; Saldaña's FABPAC appointee Michael Bocanegra; and Saldaña's two challengers from the 2014 election: former Austin Council of PTAs chair Monica Sanchez and former AISD coach Kate Mason-Murphy. Saldaña has not yet formally endorsed anyone for the race.