Public Notice: Dr. Mathias and Mr. Hyde
AISD board needs to come out of the darkness
The Austin ISD board of trustees officially hired a new superintendent on Tuesday: Dr. Stephanie Elizalde, who is by all accounts a fine choice – a well-liked chief schools officer at Dallas ISD, with a degree from UT-Austin, a teaching background and emphasis – so far so good. But she steps into a really tough situation. Aside from the obvious immediate crisis of opening schools during a pandemic, she'll face a largely dysfunctional board that's at odds with an entrenched administration, all wrapped in a culture of secrecy, with both sides having lost the trust of much of the community. And a lot of the worst of it was on display at the board meetings this Monday and Tuesday.
Monday showcased the divisiveness, but also the cult of secrecy, as trustee Dr. Jayme Mathias laid into Chief Equity Officer Dr. Stephanie Hawley for coming out publicly last November against the school closure plan trustees were about to pass, calling it "a map of ... 21st century racism." For Mathias, the racism may or may not be okay, but airing the district's dirty laundry in public is literally monstrous: "The events that we saw playing out between September and November of last year were not helpful for our board, for our administration, for our community. And so if we were able to somehow avoid Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde scenarios in the future, would love nothing more than for us to take steps in that direction as a board."
Hawley jumped to her own defense, noting that she had tried to bring her concerns to the board early on: "Well, Trustee Mathias ... I really, with respect, with you putting Ms. on there, I just want to say that – and I said this to you as well – you were one of the first trustees that I told that there was an issue [with the school closures]. And I also shared with four other board members there was an issue. And so, there were no surprises. And Dr. Cruz and the entire team was well aware in October. And Trustee Ashy and Trustee Singh actually sat in on a presentation that I did the week before the vote. And so, I just want to be very clear that I was very clear, and there was not Jekyll and Hyde. I just needed to make that assertion for myself, publicly, that there was no Jekyll and Hyde from the Equity Officer." Ouch.
Mathias tweeted out a non-apology apology the next day, which was met with considerable derision in the Twittersphere.
Tuesday's special called meeting was fully devoted to secrecy. The board has taken up the absolutely anti-democratic habit of holding their meetings almost entirely in lengthy closed-door executive sessions – a tool usually reserved for sensitive real estate and personnel negotiations – emerging only to vote and issue ceremonial proclamations. Tuesday was a fine example: The board convened at 5:38pm to hear a few prerecorded comments – prompting a couple of questions from board members which were never answered – and went into executive session after nine minutes. After three and a half hours behind closed doors, they emerged at 9:19pm and – with no discussion whatsoever – voted to hire Elizalde (see "AISD Hires Stephanie Elizalde as Next Superintendent" for more). After a few thanks and congratulations, they adjourned at 9:27pm.
If you're keeping score, that's 17 minutes of open meeting, with several trustees not saying a word, compared to 213 minutes spent conducting business – whatever that may have been; it's secret to us mortals – behind closed doors. It's a tally typical of recent meetings, and it's not good enough.
So, do you want to be a AISD trustee? All four seats that are up for election in November are open; none of the incumbents, including Mathias, wants another four years. The filing deadline for that Nov. 3 ballot is Monday, Aug. 17 – same as for the five City Council seats that are up.
You Can Be Virtually Downtown
Preservation Austin's 28th Annual Homes Tour, "Downtown Doorsteps," is virtual this year, a 45-minute-long video tour of Downtown Austin's historic living spaces premiering Thursday, Aug. 13, at 7pm. $20 tickets at www.preservationaustin.org.
Downtown Austin Alliance Foundation's third annual Austin's Birthday Bash is 6-8pm Saturday, Aug. 15 – celebrating the 181st anniversary of the first lots in the city being auctioned off, under the Auction Oaks in Republic Square Park. This event's also gone virtual this year, with a 6-8pm concert curated by Riders Against the Storm's Chaka Mahone. Record a birthday wish or preorder a picnic and a party favor kit at republicsquare.org/events.