District doc­u­ments re­veal ap­pli­cants for su­per­in­ten­dent

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO&STATE - By Laura Hein­auer

Last year’s open­ing for an Austin school district su­per­in­ten­dent drew lots of in­ter­est — from across the coun­try and right up the road, doc­u­ments ob­tained re­cently un­der the Texas Pub­lic In­for­ma­tion Act show.

Ap­pli­cants in­cluded a for­mer state com­mis­sioner of ed­u­ca­tion, a de­scen­dant of Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt and some­one who sev­eral ob­servers had sus­pected but hadn’t been con­firmed pub­licly un­til now: Round Rock Su­per­in­ten­dent Jesús Chávez.

The ap­pli­cant list was part of a 1,756-page re­sponse to open records re­quests made by the Amer­i­can-States­man and oth­ers. School district of­fi­cials re­leased some doc­u­ments but waged a le­gal bat­tle to keep oth­ers con­fi­den­tial, ar­gu­ing that re­leas­ing the doc­u­ments could al­low re­porters to dis­cover the names of can­di­dates.

Attorneys for the States­man re­ceived the doc­u­ments June 25, about seven weeks af­ter

a state district judge ruled they must be re­leased.

The rul­ing came about nine months af­ter state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Abbott’s of­fice said cer­tain records should be re­leased af­ter names had been redacted and said the district could not cite the pos­si­bil­ity that “de­tec­tive work” could lead to the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a job can­di­date as a rea­son for with­hold­ing doc­u­ments.

Based on records that listed work his­to­ries but did not in­clude names, the ap­pli­cants for Austin su­per­in­ten­dent in­cluded:

Rudy Crew, for­mer Su­per­in­ten­dent of Mi­ami-Dade County, Fla., Pub­lic Schools.

San An­to­nio In­de­pen­dent School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Durón El Paso Su­per­in­ten­dent Lorenzo Gar­cía Jim Nel­son, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of AVID, a col­lege readi­ness pro­gram, and a for­mer Texas com­mis­sioner of ed­u­ca­tion.

Mark Roo­sevelt, su­per­in­ten­dent of Pitts­burgh Pub­lic Schools and great-grand­son of Theodore Roo­sevelt.

Joseph Wise, chief ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cer for Edi­son Learn­ing, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that part­ners with school dis­tricts on re­form projects.

It was not im­me­di­ately clear from the doc­u­ments how far each per­son got in the process, though all — in­clud­ing even­tual hire Meria Carstarphen — were listed as “ap­pli­cants” in a doc­u­ment dated Dec. 6, 2008. Carstarphen was an­nounced as the lone fi­nal­ist for the po­si­tion on Feb. 26, 2009. She re­placed Pat For­gione, who had been Austin’s su­per­in­ten­dent for 10 years, in July 2009.

In a let­ter to the Austin Board of Trustees, Chávez said he felt he pos­sessed the vi­sion, ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence needed to make Austin a “na­tional model district.”

“The su­per­in­ten­dent must be a great leader who can pro­vide the guid­ance nec­es­sary to ac­com­plish great things,” he wrote. “Let me sug­gest that I am the in­di­vid­ual who pos­sesses these char­ac­ter­is­tics.”

Round Rock of­fi­cials said Chávez was not avail­able for com­ment. District spokes­woman JoyLynn Oc­chi­uzzi said she was not aware of Chávez’s ap­pli­ca­tion un­til Wed­nes­day.

Leslie Price, a spokes­woman for the San An­to­nio In­de­pen­dent School District, said Durón had al­ready shared with trustees and staff mem­bers there that he had “been ap­proached and ini­tially talked with a re­cruiter not with the ac­tual ISD but then had re­moved him­self from the process.”

“He had de­ter­mined that he was fo­cused on stay­ing in San An­to­nio with SAISD,” Price said.

To­ward the end of the process, nei­ther Chávez nor Durón were talked about in the com­mu­nity as fi­nal­ists. How­ever, Sweet­wa­ter United High School District Su­per­in­ten­dent Je­sus Gan­dara was. At the time, nu­mer­ous e-mails were sent to Austin school board mem­bers urg­ing them to se­lect a His­panic fi­nal­ist.

Once Carstarphen had been se­lected, how­ever, sev­eral in the com­mu­nity said it was time to move for­ward.

Mel Waxler, le­gal coun­sel for the Austin school district, had ar­gued that in­for­ma­tion about the ap­pli­cants did not have to be re­leased, be­cause state law al­lows dis­tricts to keep can­di­date names con­fi­den­tial. Waxler said cer­tain in­for­ma­tion, if re­leased, would make it easy to de­ter­mine who they were.

Se­nior Judge Paul Davis of the 201st District Court ruled that al­though the names of su­per­in­ten­dent can­di­dates are among the le­gal ex­cep­tions, “the Leg­is­la­ture has ex­pressly di­rected that the act must be ‘lib­er­ally con­strued in fa­vor of grant­ing a request for in­for­ma­tion.’”

As of early May, the Austin school district spent about $150,000 fight­ing the re­lease of doc­u­ments re­lated to its su­per­in­ten­dent search.

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