New “Equity Coalition” Pushes Back on AISD Board

Superintendent search on wrong track, say advocates

Paul Cruz (Photo by John Anderson)

Austin Independent School District's search for a successor to outgoing Superintendent Paul Cruz has underlined equity concerns – both old and new ones – for some community members. On Tuesday, May 26, a sizable group of parents, caregivers, and advocates released a letter to AISD's board of trustees outlining those concerns and calling for better community engagement and transparency as the board conducts its search during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter's signatories – calling themselves the AISD Equity Coalition – argue that recent AISD actions have "highlighted long standing inequities and resulted in a loss of trust in the current leadership" and left some parents and community members "feeling shut out and marginalized." AISD plans to find Cruz's replacement by his last day, Aug. 31 – a timeline that the district has previously said renders an interim president unnecessary.

COVID-19's impact on the district's most vulnerable families – and "even more advantaged" ones – limits their ability to participate in the search, the letter argues. More specifically, the group expressed concerns over the two-week timeline for gathering community input via Zoom – a time frame that is not only "insufficient" but also restricted to those with access to technology.

"Community engagement in the attempt to hire a new superintendent isn't a couple of Zoom meetings in English," said East Austin Coalition for Quality Education's Roxanne Evans in a Tuesday press conference. "That is not authentic." To increase transparency and input, the letter recommends that AISD open all meetings to the public, and reach out to each campus community for input on the superintendent search, among other ­suggestions.

The letter also asks AISD to "commission a third party equity audit immediately" in order to inform AISD's 2020-25 Strategic Plan, and that the district's Equity Office be "deeply involved in the superintendent selection process." Those calls predate Cruz's February announcement of his departure. Last fall, AISD Equity Officer Dr. Stephanie Hawley deemed the first round of the district's School Changes plan – closing Brooke, Metz, Sims, and Pease elementaries – "a map of what 21st century racism looks like" and called for an external audit ("AISD Equity Report Hits Home Hard," News, Dec. 13, 2019; "Is There an Equity Audit in AISD's Future?" News, Dec. 27, 2019).

"We have yet to see a public meeting between the board and AISD Equity Office to discuss the possibility of an independent equity audit," said Noelita Lugo, co-founder of Save Austin Schools, in the press conference; her group created an online petition for an independent audit last week. "We cannot afford to repeat history. We must move from talk to action," said Lugo. "The community is ready and willing. The question is, 'Will AISD take our hand?'"

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