AISD Readies for School, Sports, Elections, and Red Ink

Students go back to class and sports Sept. 8 and more district news

illustration by Zeke Barbaro

There's a new (old) CFO in town, Austin kids go back to school and sports, and the election race is heating up. Happy September!

First up, the first day of school is coming up fast. This Tuesday, Sept. 8, Austin ISD classes will begin in an online format, with the vast majority of students learning from home until at least October 5, although students who lack internet access or a safe home environment can still come into school buildings and take their online classes there. AISD has taken steps over the summer to increase internet access. The district purchased 24,000 iPads for younger students, in addition to the Chromebooks that students in third grade and up receive. It is also distributing 10,000 wi-fi hotspots to families without internet access, for free. (Parents can call their school or fill out forms in order to request a device or hotspot.)

However, some activities can't take place online, and for students who play sports or do other University Interscholastic League activities, things are even more complicated. Some activities, including marching band, aren't happening at all; some are asking participants to do independent or socially distanced workouts; some are practicing on ­campus. Football is planned to continue this fall: Full-contact practice starts Sept. 14, with the first games coming at the end of Septem­ber. On Tuesday, Austin Public Health reported that preseason football workouts at local schools were linked to at least 11 cases of COVID-19; the names and districts of the schools involved have not been released.

With all the adjustments needed for online learning this fall, in addition to stresses already in place, AISD is facing a $48 million budget deficit – one it hopes new Chief Busi­ness Officer Larry Throm can address. Super­intendent Stephanie Elizalde appointed Throm after working with him in Dallas ISD, where he took Dallas from a scandal-­shadowed $64 million deficit to a $54 million surplus in a decade. Throm is also no stranger to Austin; AISD originally appointed him as finance director in 1999 and replaced him with Nicole Conley after he left for Dallas in 2008. (Conley recently resigned as chief financial officer after being passed over in the superintendent search.) Throm isn't Elizalde's only Dallas hire either – DISD transplant Toni Córdova is also joining as the chief of staff.

In other onboarding news, Elizalde posted answers to community questions on the AISD website last Friday. The answers come after the AISD Equity Coalition, which includes the Austin Justice Coalition and teachers' union Education Austin, pushed for all superintendent finalists to answer a community-generated questionnaire centered around equity. Elizalde noted that "our data indicates that we have processes and practices that are easily interpreted by some as racist," and called for the district to support anti-racism training and be "intentional and proactive in recruiting teachers of color." She also said she sees a role in schools for specially trained school resource officers under "local control" – that is, for the AISD Police. Her full answers can be found here.

Finally, Education Austin has already made its endorsements in the November elections for the AISD Board of Trustees: Texas State professor John McKiernan-Gonzalez for Dis­trict 2 in Southeast Austin, documentary filmmaker Lynn Boswell for District 5 in West Austin, policy consultant Noelita Lugo for At-Large Position 8, and UT-Austin professor Kevin Foster, the only candidate running in North Austin's District 3.

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Austin Independent School District, University Interscholastic League, COVID-19, Austin Public Health, Larry Throm, Stephanie Elizalde, Toni Córdova, Nicole Conley, AISD Equity Coalition, Austin Justice Coalition, Education Austin, AISD Police, AISD Board of Trustees, John McKiernan-Gonzalez, Lynn Boswell, Noelita Lugo, Kevin Foster, November 2020 Election, Back to School 2020

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