AUSTIN (KXAN) — Late Monday night the Austin Independent school board voted unanimously to have Dr. Paul Cruz lead the district as superintendent. Last week, Dr. Paul Cruz, the interim superintendent since Dr. Meria Carstarphen left at the end of this past school year for the superintendent job in Atlanta, was named one of the three finalists. Originally Dr. Cruz wasn’t supposed to be considered since he was in the interim position. But board members said that as he worked in this position he demonstrated a leadership and compassion for the schools and teachers that they were looking for in a candidate.
This past weekend Cruz along with two other finalists were supposed to be introduced to the public – that way parents and community members could provide feedback to the board on their thoughts of the candidates. But once Cruz was named as a finalist, the other two dropped out.
Education Austin, the labor union for some AISD employees, is not surprised those candidates would drop their name before it became public.
“This type of a system is very quiet and that’s because people don’t want to put their jobs in jeopardy who are applying for it,” said Ken Zarifis, President Education Austin. “So they left, I don’t know why they left but I have to say it must be because they didn’t feel like they could compete with Dr. Cruz for some reason.”
In order to find candidates for the superintendent job and narrow down the search the school board hired a search firm and paid them about $41,600.
“I think it was money very well spent,” said Zarifis. “You don’t know these things until you start the search. If you didn’t have the search you would have people clamoring for not having a search, there were 98 applicants, there were finalists, and they thought Dr. Cruz should be part of that. It was a very thorough process.”
Cruz will be in charge of more than 85,000 students and 12,000 employees on 129 campuses. According to the draft profile, the salary will be in the $300,000 range, along with a “comprehensive” benefits package.
Experience could help Cruz with school funding issues
Cruz may also be well positioned to take on one of his priorities — school funding. Specifically, Cruz has talked about changes he believes are needed with what’s know as the “Robin Hood” plan, in which Texas school districts considered “property wealthy” are supposed to help “property poor” districts. Cruz says AISD will pay $175 million to the state under that system this year and that number will top $300 million by 2018.
“It will happen, there is nothing left to stop that. So unless we come together as a community to say, ‘this is the way it’s impacting us’ and then working together for some solutions, we’re going to find ourselves in a situation that’s not going to feel good. But we need to do something about it today,” Cruz said in a meeting this weekend.
The issue may also come up during the next session of the state legislature, which kicks off in January.
Drew Scheberle with the Austin Chamber of Commerce says the Austin Chamber believes Cruz is qualified for what he calls “the toughest job” in central Texas.
“We think that he’ll be well placed to help advocate immediately and understand where the biggest pain points are in the budgeting process,” Scheberle said.
Scheberle looked back to the late 1990s when Cruz was superintendent in Laredo. Cruz then moved to the Texas Education Agency in 2002. In 2006, Cruz joined AISD. Scheberle says Cruz knows legislators and key people in the state’s education community.
The state’s school finance system is also the subject of a legal battle. A state district judge called it “unconstitutional” earlier this year. The case is headed for the Texas Supreme Court.