EXCLUSIVE: Paul Saldaña explains resignation from Austin school board

Half way through his first term, Austin district Trustee Paul Saldaña Friday morning plans to announce his resignation from the school board.

Saldaña was elected in December 2014.

Saldaña, in an interview with the American-Statesman, said Wednesday there wasn’t just one reason for his resignation but the culmination of various ones. He notified Superintendent Paul Cruz and board President Kendall Pace Wednesday morning and notified the remaining board members late Wednesday night.

“It’s reprioritizing and putting the focus back on my family and myself,” Saldaña said. “There are no hidden agendas.”

Saldaña said he has spent more time on school board work — which is an unpaid elected position — than on his own work as a consultant, and that needed to change.

Saldaña’s resignation comes just days after the board approved a $4.6 billion facilities master plan to modernize the district and all of its campuses. Saldaña voted against it, citing equity issues and concern over underenrolled campuses that could be closed under the plan.

Under his tenure, the board hired Superintendent Paul Cruz, the first Latino superintendent in the district. Saldaña is best known for his advocacy for equity in the district, and among those trustees who pushed the district for a resolution to support immigrant students, an equity self-assessment, the creation of board oversight on education excellence through diversity, inclusion and equity, and a new program to bringing in more female-and-minority owned businesses. He also help spearhead a new ethnic and cultural studies course, that will roll out this fall.

He and Trustee Yasmin Wagner helped create a plan that resolved the years-long battle over which side of south Austin would get a high school. The Austin district recently purchased with land for a new high school in Southeast Austin and two smaller smaller tract to go toward the immediate multi-million expansion and modernization of the over-capacity Bowie High School.

Saldaña also worked to build stronger partnerships with the city of Austin and Travis County, serving as the vice chair of the regional affordability committee and a member of the joint subcommittee among the entities. He also pushed for affordable housing for district employees, which led to the entities first steps in creating affordable housing on public land for civil servants, including teachers and low-wage government workers.

Saldaña’s departure leaves the district, comprised of mostly low-income, Hispanic students, without a Latino representative, and only one other minority, Trustee Ted Gordon, who is black, on the board, a factor he said gave him pause before making his decision.

“I thought about that and honestly, I’m going to struggle with that,” Saldaña said. “It was one thing that held me back. If all of us are supposed to represent all the students of the district, it should matter, what gender or race or ethnicity you are. That just means that the board members who are left are going to have to work that much harder to walk the walk and represent all the kids. And I have confidence that they will.”

But Saldaña pointed to the remaining challenges facing the district: “In 2017, we still have segregated schools. In Austin, Texas, that professes to be very progressive and liberal.”

Saldaña’s last day on the board will be April 24, which coincides with his 100th board meeting. In the more than two years he has served on the board, he has never missed a meeting.

Trustees can either call for an election to fill Saldaña’s post, or appoint someone to the seat.

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