AISD District 8: Pursuing Community Input
Note: As many as four members of the Austin school board could be replaced in the November election and KUT News is profiling the races this week. Here we look at District 8, an at-large district that covers all of AISD.
This is the one school board race that almost every Austin voter will have a chance to weigh in on. The seat became available after Trustee Annette LoVoi decided not to seek a second term. She is among three members on the school board who have been the most vocal in challenging some of the overhauls advanced by Superintendent Meria Carstarphen. The most controversial was the decision to hire the South Texas charter school operator IDEA Public Schools to run an in-district charter inside Allan Elementary School in East Austin. Candidate Gina Hinojosa says it was one of the reasons she decided to run.
“I think it’s dangerous to be imposing such drastic changes on communities when that was not a failing school,” Hinojosa said. “It was a beloved school in the community, and the community obviously didn’t want the change.”
Allan Elementary was ranked academically acceptable by the state. But the school it feeds into, Eastside Memorial High School, has failed to meet state benchmarks for years, and Hinojosa’s opponent Mary Ellen Pietruszynski echoes the school district’s rationale that something drastic had to be done.
“To sit back and say that these schools are acceptable to us when the children are not reaching the standards that other children in the district are reaching in other schools, that’s a travesty of justice,” Pietruszynski said.
But Pietruszynski says the district should have done a better job communicating with the neighborhood affected by the changes, and she says she would improve public interaction if elected to the board. Pietruszynski says one of her most important issues as a candidate is inequities across the school district.
“The biggest way I see to address that is in our biggest resource, which is our teachers,” Pietruszynski said. “And I believe that there are ways to treat teachers differently than what we are currently doing.”
Pietruszynski says she supports a pay raise for teachers and more professional development. To that end, she supports the proposal to hold an election to raise taxes next year to finance staff raises. But she says the district should look to other sources of revenue, including donations from businesses. Hinojosa says a tax ratification election should only be pursued as a “last resort.” Both candidates say they want to see more community input in school district decisions, but for Hinojosa, it’s the central plank of her campaign.
“Parents and teachers want what’s best for these kids more than anyone else, and have their own expertise to offer when we make these decisions,” Hinojosa said. “So we always need to begin a needs assessment by engaging the community that is most affected.” (Correction: An earlier version of this web story erroneously attributed this quote to Ms. Pietruszynski. We regret the error.)
There are no limits on campaign contributions for a school board race, and both candidates have raised a lot of money. Hinojosa raised $37,000 — $10,000 of that from a political action committee run by the teacher’s association Education Austin. Pietruszynski raised more than $50,000, most of it from three people. Her biggest contribution of $25,000 came from David Welland, who sits on the board of her employer.
Early voting starts on Monday. Election Day is Nov. 6.