Incumbents John Aoueille and Kimberly Flasch, as well as newcomer Erin Archer, led the field for three seats on the Lake Travis school board in unofficial final results.
Archer received 56.5%, or 5,916 votes, to win the Place 3 seat over Laurie Higginbotham. Aoueille received 56.9%, or 5,918 votes, in the race for Place 4 ahead of Kit Crumbley. Flasch had 61.3%, or 6,330 votes, in the race for Place 5 ahead of Porter Herring.
All places represent the entire district and voters had the chance to vote for their top candidate in each place. Each will serve a three-year term.
All three winning candidates were endorsed by the Lake Travis Families PAC. Founded in November by local parents, the PAC had raised over $60,000 as of mid-April and worked to get out the vote in support of candidates in favor of keeping schools open, opposing mask and vaccine mandates and supporting parental rights in education.
Incumbent Jessica Putonti did not run for reelection, opening this seat for a race between Archer and Higginbotham, who currently serves on the Lakeway City Council.
Archer said she initially didn’t want to run for the seat, given the political climate, but decided she could bring something of value to the table after community members approached her to enter the race. Archer has four children in the district at the elementary through high school level and co-owns several small businesses with her husband, including a mosquito pest control operation.
“I bring a very calm, you know, somewhat moderate voice,” she said. “I really do look at all sides of an argument before I make a choice. I’m collaborative. I really have the best interests of our kids at heart and I don’t have any other political agendas or ambitions outside of this race. So all the decisions I make would just purely be on what I think is best for our district.”
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Archer said her main priorities include keeping kids in classrooms if at all possible, even if the pandemic gets worse again. Lake Travis schools have been open to families who wanted in-person learning since the fall of 2020 — the district offered limited online options for younger students this past fall. Archer said she is also opposed to mask and vaccine mandates.
Archer said she wants to support teachers, address pandemic learning loss and preserve the district’s academic excellence. She feels the skills she’s gained as a small business owner — in terms of managing people and solving problems — will serve her as a trustee.
“Our teachers are already stressed and overworked and under-appreciated, and so teacher support and learning loss support would be major issues for me if elected,” she said. “I would really be interested in forming a community and board and teacher task force of sorts to come up with new and innovative outside-of-the-box ideas to support our teachers and also help to catch our kids up.”
Incumbent Aoueille, who serves as president for the board, said his priorities for this electric cycle include closing academic gaps caused by COVID, ensuring students are prepared for college and the workforce when they graduate and focusing on community engagement.
“Kids that were not able to be in the classroom (during the pandemic) really suffered and a lot of them are behind and so we are hyper focused on getting those kids back up to level,” he said. “The biggest thing that’s helping the kids came out of House Bill 4545 and that’s the 30 hours of accelerated learning. … If we do that in a very quality manner, then there are going to be very few kids that will not get back up to level, and we’re going to have a summer program that’s going to take care of all of those that we see that for some reason don’t get back to where they need to be.”
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Aoueille works as an insurance agent and branch manager at Watkins Insurance group and has served on the board since 2015. He said he is proud that during his time on the board the district has never been complacent but rather always striven for the best. He said he wants to keep working toward excellence and to help the district navigate an upcoming bond that would address needed expansions to accommodate growth.
“We have a bond that will be brought before the board I believe in May that will hopefully have two new elementary schools and some sort of relief for the high school,” he said. “We have one elementary school that is approaching 120% of capacity, so it’s time to either move some kids away from that elementary school or build new elementary schools and I think the answer is build new elementary schools. And, of course, at the high school, we need some sort of relief.”
Aoueille has had two children graduate from the district and has another two at the high school. He said his love for Lake Travis schools stems from how well he feels they prepared his children for success.
“I want to give back. I feel that I owe this district,” he said. “I love this district, and I want to see this district continue to do so well. We’ve maintained A grades, superior rating from the TEA and I want to continue that.”
Aoueille also attracted some local controversy after he said the COVID-19 vaccine did not work and said it was killing people at a candidate forum hosted by the Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce on April 13. A major study of vaccine side-effects in the US found no link between the vaccine and deaths recorded after vaccination, and a number of studies have shown the vaccines to be widely effective.
Incumbent Kimberly Flasch was first elected in 2013 and said she is running again to keep the district on its current path. She said her focus is on academic excellence and meeting students’ needs.
“With us being a fast-growth district we have run into situations year after year with students that are coming to our district with different academic experiences in other school districts, other states and we’re having to meet those students where they are to get them up to the standards within LTISD,” she said. “Couple that with the learning losses and the difficulty that our student population has experienced over the past couple of years with COVID, and it’s even more important that we’re making sure we’re doing a focused approach on each of our students to get them up to where they need to be, to where they’re going to be successful in their post-high school lives.”
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Flasch said retaining and recruiting teachers is also important to her and that she is committed to keeping schools open because she feels that’s how students learn best. Flasch is also an accountant at BKD CPAs & Advisors, and said she is committed to ensuring the district is spending taxpayer dollars responsibly.
Flasch said she has a record of listening to the community’s desires and will continue to do so on topics such as a possible second high school.
“I’ve got a proven record that shows that I’ve listened to our community to understand what their wants are,” she said. “If I were to say what I wanted, that doesn’t mean anything as a board member, I’m supposed to be working on behalf of our community.”