Cruz Officially in for AISD Chief Race

Interim superintendent now eligible to become permanent CEO

Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz: Maybe not interim for much longer?
Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz: Maybe not interim for much longer? (Photo by Jana Birchum)

"You didn't do what you said you were going to do." Last night, Austin ISD trustee Jayme Mathias preempted criticism of the board's decision to add Interim Superintendent Paul Cruz to the short list of candidates to become permanent district CEO.

Last night's board meeting ran for almost four hours, but most of that was in executive session as trustees wrangled over how to add Cruz to the short list.

His addition was a simple response to the public pressure - as board president Vince Torres noted, originally from a few voices, but now from increasingly diverse voices. The actual vote was surprisingly rapid, but then the board disappeared behind locked doors to hash out the fine details.

The real question was, how would they alter the timeline? After several months of work by search firm Ray and Associates, as well as a round of interviews with the top contenders from the list of 98 applicants, the board had come down to a list of two. They were supposed to be announced today at a public forum, but that was canceled, to allow Cruz's name to be added to the list.

That's where the debate got ugly. Outgoing At-Large Place 9 Trustee Tamala Barksdale called for the hiring process to be completed with due haste. However, trustees Ann Teich and Robert Schneider (both of whom retain their seats) argued that the final hiring should be put off until the new board is seated in January.

After two and a half hours behind closed doors, the board emerged with a new timeline. The names of the remaining two candidates will be announced on Dec. 12. There will be a public forum and meet-and-greet on Dec. 13 at Lanier High School, and then a sole finalist will be named on Dec. 15. That's the day before the run-off election.

The hiring process was originally designed to be split between the outgoing board (several members of which had worked on the last search process, hiring Meria Carstarphen) and the new board, which will actually work with the new superintendent. Now there is concern that the incoming trustees will be charged with little more than rubberstamping the current board's decision. District 6 candidate Paul Saldaña has already criticized the new process, stating that the Dec. 13 forum seems a logistical challenge, and that "naming a finalist two days later seems rushed."

Board Vice-President Gina Hinojosa said that this remains an open process, and that these changes come after months of due diligence. However, she was concerned that the appointment needs to be made quickly, so the district can move forward with critical tasks, such as filling the currently vacant post of director of special education. She added that the new board will still play a critical role, even up to reopening the whole process. "The board has the power to do anything under the sun it wants to do."

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Austin ISD, AISD, Superintendent Search, Paul Saldana, Robert Schneider, Ann Teich, Paul Cruz, Tamala Barksdale

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