Unease with the Austin school district’s decision to implant a charter school into an East Austin campus helped an East Austin priest narrowly defeat a well-entrenched incumbent by the razor-thin margin. The Rev. Dr. Jayme Lee Mathias defeated five-year incumbent trustee Sam Guzman by a mere 104 votes.
"There are so many people in East Austin, Dove Springs and Travis Heights who feel that they have not had a voice on the school board or a trustee who has listened to them for so long," Mathias said in a phone interview. "It is our agenda to bring a voice to them to the students and parents.”
Mathias is a priest in the American Catholic Church of the United States, a progressive breakaway from the Roman Catholic church. Mathias says he will be the first openly gay school board member in AISD, a detail he didn't mention during the campaign but disclosed to KUT last night.
In December, a divided school board voted 6-3 to approve a contract with IDEA Public Schools – a South Texas charter school operator – to operate an in-district charter school in the Allan Elementary campus, a decision that enraged some parents who said their input was rejected. The district said the urgency of the situation required immediate action.
“It broke apart an entire community,” Mathias said in a pre-election interview. "By bringing in that in-district charter, there are now ripples of fear and concern throughout the entire district.” Mathias has vowed as a school board member to spend more time listening to the dissenting voices in his community, which might create friction with the district administration if it slows their efforts to find immediate remedies for ailing academic performance.