Voters elect AISD board reps. and pass Bond

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Photos Courtesy of Candidates' Websites

There were five officials elected, four of whom are new to the board and one was reelected. 

Carey Wooley, Print Editor-in-Chief

As voters waited in anticipation it was officially announced that the historic 2.44 billion dollar Austin Independent School District (AISD) bond was passed. This money will help update and renew schools across the district as well as add to teacher hirings and raises.

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, voters passed the AISD bond as well as choosing multiple new AISD school board officials. There were five officials elected, four of whom are new to the board and one was reelected. 

“I think it was a tremendous win for the students in Austin ISD,” Principal Mark Robinson said. “What the bond is going to do is allocate money that is protected from recapture, which means that every dollar will stay in Austin ISD to go to improving facilities and in some cases, completely modernizing existing facilities.”

AISD is one of several districts that is part of the recapture or more commonly known as the “Robin Hood” program. This program takes the AISD tax dollars and redistributes them amongst “property-poor” districts. When a bond is approved this money goes straight to assisting that specific district and is exempt from redistribution. 

“In the six years that I’ve been in Austin ISD I know that there have been times when we have had facility emergencies at Bowie that we’ve had to repair and those repairs have had to be paid for out of our maintenance and operations budget, which is the same budget that we pay our staff,” Robinson said. “So the bond has dedicated funds for those repairs so they can be planned so that it doesn’t have to come out of the money that we pay teachers with.”

In the plans outlined by AISD, the bond would go towards security improvements, full renovations, technology upgrades, athletic improvements, and new buses. According to austinisd.org, the bond changes across AISD campuses will begin during the summer of 2023 with safety upgrades to keep students and teachers safe.

“The nature of the improvements that need to be made now are things that will be scheduled when students aren’t on campus,” Robinson said. “What we’ve gone through phase one of our renovation and modernization and rebuilding was so significant that it couldn’t be completed just in the breaks.”

In 2017 a separate bond was passed that was several million less than this current bond. Both bonds’ purposes were very similar but the 2017 bond was used to update AISD school buildings and start large construction projects while the current money will be used to finish previous projects and update minor details.

“I was very surprised to see a bond of this size getting passed, but I was also very relieved,” senior Shabbir Akhtar said. “AISD is one of the largest school districts in Texas, so it deserves more funding for its students. A bond of this size will be able to fund both small and large-scale projects all over the district. It will also allow schools to have excess funds to put towards their specific issues.”

As past bonds have updated Bowie’s buildings, this money will be used to fix less visible problems. According to Robinson, when students are on break, repairs to the pipes and the school’s heating and cooling equipment will happen. 

“There are several things that we’ve advocated for that We just don’t have the funds for right now,” Robinson said. “One is a secure set of double doors that will allow us to better control access to the campus. In addition, the stadiums that we play at, like Burger, will gain new turf.”

The newly elected board members include Candance Hunter, Kathryn Whiteley Chu, Andrew Gonzales, Arati Singh, and David Kauffman, who represents the district Bowie is a part of. All of these members have had some experience in the classroom teaching students or prior experience as an AISD staff member. 

“By passing the bond and electing progressive, student-centered candidates, shows that our students and public schools are worth investing in,” AISD school board member Arati Singh said. “The election also shows me that AISD can become a world-class school district with audacious goals and the ability to meet them. And I couldn’t be happier about that.”

Arati Singh started her career in the classroom as a fourth-grade teacher in the Rio Grande valley. She then went on to work for many different districts and schools to help them design and update their STEM programs. The other members have had a very similar start to their careers giving them an unique perspective on what schools and teachers in AISD need.

“I have faith in the new board-members. If problems aren’t being addressed, replacing elected officials is a good step,” Akhtar said. “Having teachers on the board will lead them to getting the attention they deserve from bills around the district.”

Electing progressive, student-centered candidates shows that our students and public schools are worth investing in.”

— Arati Singh, AISD Board Member

This week the interim superintendent, Dr. Anthony Mays, who took over after Dr. Stephine Elizalde stepped down last year, announced he was leaving AISD for a permanent position in the Houston area. This leaves the new board to choose another superintendent to take over after Mays leaves next year.

“I think that the new board is going to have their work cut out for them,” Robinson said. “There are a number of new board members who will be seated next year. The board will have to find a new superintendent and that new superintendent will have to assemble a team and lead the district in a time when there’s definitely a need for leadership.”

AISD has now had three different superintendents in the last three years and the school board is now made up of almost completely new representatives. With all this turnover at the district, many questions arise regarding the district’s future and how all these changes will affect AISD students and staff.

“I believe that this turnover will lead to a new chapter in the district,” Akhtar said. “With new people coming in to voice their opinions, I see us having new ideas and plans. I have faith in the new board-members. If problems aren’t being addressed, replacing elected officials is a good step. Having teachers on the board will lead them to getting the attention they deserve from bills around the district.”

According to KUT.org, Gonzales and other newly elected representatives feel that there is a disconnect between what AISD and what the board says they want to do and what plays out in the classroom. Since these new board members have extensive classroom experience, they hope to close that disconnect and make the most effective decisions for students and teachers

“I anticipate this new board will view teacher and family voices as a strength and resource to make AISD stronger than ever,” Singh said. “I expect our first few priorities will include finding an excellent interim superintendent, having a successful permanent superintendent search, filling our vacancies with highly qualified teachers, strengthening our special education program, and advocating at the legislature for more school funding and local control.”