District documents reveal applicants for superintendent
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.