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Austin ISD Interim Superintendent Now Considered For the Permanent Job

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT News

A recent swell of community support for Austin School District interim superintendent Paul Cruz has pushed the Austin school board to consider him for the permanent position, even though the board and Cruz initially agreed he wouldn’t apply for the job.

The school board appointed Cruz interim superintendent in April, and Board President Vincent Torres made it clear Cruz would not be considered for the job.

"In a conversation I had with Dr. Cruz, in seeing if he would be interested in accepting the position, he did indicate he wouldn't seek an application for the permanent superintendent," Torres told the board.

The goal was to appoint someone with experience within the district who could steady the ship while it searches for a new captain. But many in the AISD community say throughout the spring and summer, Cruz proved himself to be a breath of fresh air after the board's rocky relationship with former superintendent Meria Carstarphen.

“Dr. Cruz has demonstrated relationships and strong communications with many partners in the community," says Ken Zarifis, president of the the teacher's union, Education Austin.  "It’s not just Education Austin, but it’s how he interacts with business, faith, non-profits and the community as a whole in a respectful way. That transcends any individual agenda and that’s why he’s being considered.”

Meanwhile, the school board and the hiring firm, Ray & Associates continued with the process set up in April. The board held forums about the kind of superintendent the community wanted. But as Cruz's tenure as interim superintendent continued, he began to avoid questions about whether he wanted the job permanently. In an August 22, 2014  interview with KUT’s Nathan Bernier, he deflects the question.

"Would it make more sense to select internally a superintendent for AISD then?" Bernier asked at the time. 

"People fall on different sides of that, and again, that’s up to the board and making their decision for the best superintendent for Austin," Cruz responded.

In September, the district starts to accept applications for the superintendent position. Meanwhile, Cruz avoided the question again at the State of the District in October. At a press availability after Cruz's speech, a reporter asked, "Are you going to be putting your hat in the ring to become the next superintendent, not just the interim superintendent?"

His response? "Well, you know my role is to serve as interim superintendent and that's what I intend to do, is be the best interim superintendent. With that, I know the board will elect the best superintendent for the Austin community."

Soon after, local media started to report how happy the school board and education community is with Cruz's leadership. School board members say they've received more than 200 emails regarding Cruz's future with the district.

"C'mon people, save taxpayers' money and appoint Paul Cruz superintendent," read one email. 

"We really like the Interim Superintendent, and would like to have him considered to be the new Superintendent," read another email.

Still, the board continued with the established hiring process. Last month, the board interviewed potential candidates from across the country. Board President Torres wouldn't specify how many of the 98 candidates the board interviewed, but says it was fewer than ten. 

However, between those interviews on November 22 and yesterday, something changed. Torres held a press conference announcing that the board has decided to change the hiring process and include Cruz as a possible candidate.

“In my eyes, this is a great opportunity to continue that upward trajectory in improving student performance," Cruz said at the press conference yesterday. "It’s a great time, it’s a good thing to do and I love Austin.”

The district says there was enough community support for Cruz that the board felt obligated to consider him as a possible candidate.  But school board member Robert Schneider says he’s disappointed in the decision to change the hiring process at the last minute.

“It’s another example of how we have some groups and some individuals that are able to put pressure on the board and it completely legitimizes constant complaints about the board making up its mind based on whoever is heard last and loudest," Schneider says.

The board will discuss the changes to the hiring process and Cruz’s candidacy for superintendent on Monday. That's also the second to last board meeting for four of the nine trustees. Next month, new trustees will be sworn in. That new school board will officially hire the new superintendent. 

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