AISD Voters Elect New Board Trustees

Malvika Pradhan, News Editor

This midterm election season, three new trustees were elected to Austin Independent School District’s (AISD) school board. The new school board-elected members include Candance Hunter for District 1, Kathryn Whitley Chu for District 4, and Andrew Gonzales for District 6. Additionally, incumbent Arati Singh was re-elected to her District 9 at-large position, where she will represent all AISD families. Austin voters also passed a 2.44 billion dollar bond package which, according to the AISD website, will fund improvements for almost every AISD campus. 

Chu, the new trustee for District 4, won her race against Clint Small by 71% of the vote, according to Community Impact Magazine. Chu said she is excited for the term ahead and to be able to serve AISD families and staff. 

“I look forward to bringing my teaching experience to advocate for best educational practices for students and better working conditions for teachers,” Whitley Chu said. “I began my career as an accountant, and that expertise is extremely important in a Trustee’s role as a steward of taxpayer dollars.”

Incumbent Singh won her race for the at-large position against her opponent, Heather Toolin, by 67% of the vote according to Community Impact Magazine. Singh said the results of the bond and trustee elections show that AISD voters are ready to invest in students and public education. 

“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,” Singh said. “Voters elected candidates that understand all students can achieve at high levels and that teacher voice is critical to achieving that goal.”

Gonzales, the new trustee for District 6, won his seat with 67% of the votes, according to Community Impact. Gonzales said he is thrilled to have won, and though AISD has many challenges to overcome, he is optimistic that the new board can tackle these issues.

“We have a large district that makes decisions that impact our quality of life in many ways,” Gonzales said. “As the child of a retired AISD teacher, a former AISD student, and a former AISD employee, I know from firsthand experience the many ways AISD plays a significant role in our lives. I want our district to be the best possible for everyone we come into contact with and it was that desire that compelled me to run for this office.” 

Chu said her first priorities in office will be to improve teacher and staff recruitment and retention, hire an interim superintendent, and eventually hire a permanent superintendent that is invested and committed to the district. Additionally, Chu said some of the biggest challenges facing the district are Texas’ underfunding of public education, and standardized testing. 

“The biggest challenges facing AISD are that Texas underfunds public schools and has punitive, high-stakes testing,” Whitley Chu said. “Both of these problems are huge factors in the critical teacher and staff shortage. Teachers and classified staff –such as teacher’s assistants, custodians, bus drivers, food service workers and front office staff– are grossly underpaid because Texas is 49 out of 50 states in per pupil spending.”

According to KUT, AISD has seen three different superintendents since the pandemic started. Interim superintendent, Anthony Mays, who took over on July 8, 2022 – after Stephanie Elizalde left the position this past June – announced his resignation on Nov. 16, 2022. Gonzales said in an interview with KUT that Austin residents should have some input on the candidate, which the district hopes to choose by Thursday, Dec 15. 

“Our biggest and most immediate priority will be to oversee both the development of the process and ultimately the selection of our next superintendent,” Gonzales said. “Our district has not been immune from the national trend of high turnover in superintendents, and I think that we owe our community a significant degree of engagement and input in the selection process so that we can identify the best superintendent possible for our city.” 

Singh’s priorities for this term are very similar. She said the new school board will utilize teacher and family voices to make AISD a stronger district. 

“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,” Singh said.

In addition to making improvements on the superintendent, Chu said she is glad voters passed the bond this election season. According to the district, the proposed improvements to LASA will cost about $29,648,000 and include security improvements, heating and air conditioning repairs, athletic field upgrades, and a school mental health center.

“I am extremely excited about the passage of the 2022 AISD Bond package,” Chu said. “Modernized facilities will offer an amazing environment and learning opportunities for students. Additionally, the cost savings on deferred maintenance (not having to repeatedly fix old stuff in our buildings that need to be replaced) will free up more dollars that I would like to use to give school-based staff a much-deserved and needed pay raise.” 

Gonzales said he is also excited for the changes the bond could bring. According to Gonzales, the bond should be spent as outlined in the proposed plan put out by the district in August 2022. 

“I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about the expenditure of bond dollars to join the Community Bond Oversight Committee,” Gonzales said. “In addition, I will say that as a former teacher at two different campuses in AISD, I know how desperately in need of repair and outright replacement many of our facilities and systems are.” 

Another thing that Gonzales said impacts the district is the outcome of the governor’s race in Texas. Governors have an input in education policy and funding for Texas public schools. Apart from the outcome of the recent election, Gonzales says those that want to make a difference in the district should get involved with the local and state government.

“I would strongly suggest that all those with opinions about public education in the state of Texas make plans to visit with legislators, testify at the capitol, and get organized with others to make your feelings known at our upcoming state legislative session,” Gonzales said.