Update: Sen. Gallegos called us to say the name of the nominee would not be released until after the search process was over. See more at end of story.
Texas State Senator Mario Gallegos has filed a bill calling for public notice of finalists for a superintendent's position complete with two public forums designed to give any community -- not just its board of trustees -- a chance to check out a candidate ahead of time.
He calls it "The Terry Grier Bill." And if you're wondering, no, it's not a compliment about the Houston ISD superintendent. Gallegos has not infrequently launched attacks on Grier's operation of the school district and believes if more people had had a chance to ask Grier questions ahead of time, school board members might not have hired Grier.
"The taxpayers and citizens deserved to know what he [Grier] did in the past," Gallegos said, singling out Grier's career that has taken him through a number of school districts. Gallegos believes Grier is mishandling the approach to reviewing the HISD magnet programs and said that alone of all the big-city superintendents, Grier has not appeared before the Senate Education Committee, adding:
"He should be the one front and center to answer questions, not a surrogate."
Senate Bill 208 would add a new subsection into Chapter 11 of the Education Code requiring each finalist to speak at a public forum unless there's a death in his family, or he's sick or an immediate family member is sick. The forums would have to be held on a Saturday or after 5 p.m. "and before the date of the meeting at which the board of trustees takes a final action or a vote on the employment of a finalist as a superintendent."
Generally in Texas school districts don't release any news about their superintendent candidates until they decide on the last, one finalist and then announce his or her name. The prevailing wisdom is that if a name was released, their present employer might fire them.
However, other states have somehow been able to release candidates' names in a much more transparent process without permanent injury to anyone. Dallas ISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa, for instance, interviewed for the Las Vegas superintendency and retained his Texas job after he didn't get the Nevada post.
HISD School Board President Paula Harris thinks Gallegos's idea is a nonstarter. "I think that will limit your applicants," she said.
Harris said this isn't true just of school districts but of any industry; revealing candidates' names means a potential employer would stand to lose top talent who don't want their job searches revealed to their present employers.
In the last superintendent's search, Harris said, they had a very good candidate whose name got leaked while she was traveling to Houston and suddenly members of the media were calling her. The candidate dropped out of the Houston process, turned around, went back to her city and apologized to her board, Harris said.
Gallegos's bill also amends the state's Government Code to say that "the board of trustees must give public notice of the name or names of the finalists being considered for the position at least 30 days" before taking their final vote. Present law calls for a 21-day lead time.
"I thank the senator for his interest in the district," Harris said. "I know at the very beginning before Terry had a chance to do anything, he [Gallegos] has been against our selection. That's why I love the democratic process. It is a board responsibility to only hire one employee and that's the superintendent."
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Gallegos clearly doesn't think the HISD board did a bang-up job in checking out Grier. "I told the board anybody with a computer could have Googled him up."
Harris said she would rather Gallegos concentrate his efforts on helping to find funding for Texas public schools and to work with the HISD to "increase rigor and academic outcome in the schools."
Update: Gallegos said the point of his bill is to allow the public to question any superintendent finalist before that person is named to the position. "The point of this is transparency to the public" and not the release of candidates' names.
Asked, though, what would happen if after the public forum the board decided against hiring the candidate, wouldn't that result in identifying him or her publicly all the same -- Gallegos replied, "That would be up to the board."