All New Faces Running in AISD School Board Election

Madeleine Van Slyke, Staff Writer

Of the nine-member board of the Austin Independent School District (AISD), four seats are up for election this November. The AISD school board is a group of elected volunteers who oversee policies and finances in the district, such as yearly budget, and select the superintendent of the district. 

Kristin Ashy is the District 4 trustee and will be serving on the school board until November 2022. Ashy is a career educator, a parent of two AISD students and a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin.

“The Board of Trustees has three spelled out jobs if you will,” Ashy said. “Our job is to hire and fire the superintendent,…vote on a budget and we have financial responsibility and making sure we’re good stewards of taxpayer dollars…The third thing that we do is we clarify policy.”

The board’s main duty is to control the hiring and the firing of the superintendent, which is decided and monitored through a “superintendent score card.” The “superintendent score card” is a scorecard that consists of data and an evaluation document which is given to each trustee, Ashy said. According to Ashy, the documents will be reevaluated in this coming November’s meeting. She said there is also a unique factor about this year’s candidates.

“None of the people running are incumbents,” Ashy said. “So everybody will be new to the board as somebody who hasn’t served before, so that’s always interesting and exciting to have new and interesting thoughts and ideas that are coming to the school board, and those four positions will then join the five positions that are currently there right now, myself included.”

Lynn Boswell is one of the candidates and is running for the District 5 trustee position. The election is nonpartisan, meaning that no candidate runs with an affiliation towards a political party.

“I’m running to be sure that our schools match the values we say we have,” Boswell said. “Right now, schools are working really well for some people, and they weren’t aren’t working very well for others. I’ve sent through the PTA and been on many AISD campuses and talked with teachers and principals and families and students from even more campuses than that and really heard people’s stories about what’s working and what’s not.”  

The school board election is at the very bottom of the ballot. According to Boswell, since there is so much information out there about the many current elections, it’s really important to make sure that people are informed and paying attention to everything that’s at the bottom of the ballot.

“When you get farther down you’re talking about things like City Council,” Boswell said, “about propositions like Proposition A, which is a big transit fund, there’s Proposition B right now which is about safe streets, bike lanes, more sidewalks, and then the school board is below that at the very, very bottom.”

According to Ashy, the AISD school board affects the whole city in many different ways. As of 2019, AISD was one of the biggest employers in Austin. 

“Often, the City of Austin that is beneficial and helpful and supportive of our community can have impacts that way,” Ashy said. “We [the school board] have an impact on the economy itself, and we are one of the larger employers in the city, with roughly 12,000 employees. So we have a huge impact, financially, on the city as the people, and we are doing everything we can to provide other services and support for families. So making cakes, providing meals for those families that need that kind of assistance and support, providing mental health services.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 72% of Americans live in or close to the city where they grew up. Ashy said that giving the future generation the best possible education gives back to the Austin economy, should native Austinites decide to stay.

“We educate the future,” Ashy said. “A lot of people choose generally to stay where they grew up, so if we do the job that we all want to do and the job that we are elected to do, we make sure that we are providing the best education possible for every student that walks in the doors.” 

According to Boswell, the pandemic is still a main issue for everyone, and the trustees will have a lot of influence on what the Texas Education Agency (TEA) chooses for a plan of what happens in regards to whether students or teachers are required to return in person. Boswell said she believes the school system should collaborate with the city to figure out what’s next, but also believes trusting science and officials recommendations are more important than funding.

 “What I would love to do is…roll the clock back and plan better starting last spring for what we knew would be fall with a lot of distance,” Boswell said. “I would love to see not-for-profit institutions, neighborhood associations, families, our schools, universities, all coming together to talk about how we respond to this as a community, because it’s an issue for employers, and it’s an issue for all of us.”

Ashy and Boswell said that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to education during COVID-19. According to Ashy, there are two essential questions to consider: what to do for the students and what to do for the teachers.

“I want [students] to continue to be challenged academically, I want them to feel the challenge of learning new things, I don’t want us to feel stuck, they should feel like they’re learning more and more every day, whether they’re coming to school virtually or in person,” Ashy said. “I also want to ensure that we are paying attention to the social and emotional side of what it means to be within a pandemic.”

According to Ashy, the question for what to do for the staff is slightly more complicated. According to the World Health Organization, older people and people with pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. Many AISD staff fall into this category. 

“For our staff, that is an unbelievable question,” Ashy said. “My hope is that we do everything we can to support them and still have them feel… able to deliver the highest level of teaching.”