Austin school board gives Superintendent Paul Cruz a nod of approval


Highlights

Trustees unanimously approved his performance evaluation, all but Ann Teich voted for his raise and extension.

The 1.5 percent raise, contract extension bring Cruz’s salary to $310,958 and his contract to Dec. 31, 2020.

The Austin school board Monday night approved a 1.5 percent raise and one-year contract extension for Superintendent Paul Cruz as part of the school leader’s annual evaluation.

The changes bring Cruz’s base salary to $310,958 and extend his contract through Dec. 31, 2020.

Cruz met more than 60 percent of the targets trustees set for him in 2016, including cutting in half the number of campuses failing in state academic ratings (there are now four), making diversity gains in the district’s top magnet programs and limiting the number of home school suspensions, particularly among the youngest students.

As is customary, the school board discussed his performance privately, then board President Kendall Pace read a statement:

“Our superintendent is an engaging people-oriented, fun-loving person who knows the value of investing time and effort in building positive internal and external relationships,” Pace said. “He works tirelessly to build positive relationships with community, business and educational leaders, and the favorable perception of the district continues to increase year after year.”

Trustees voted unanimously for the overall performance evaluation. Only eight trustees approved the raise and contract extension; Trustee Ann Teich abstained.

After the board meeting, Teich told the American-Statesman she has no issues with Cruz’s performance and believes the district is making great progress. She said she abstained from voting on his raise because it was the same percentage all other employees received this year, given the district’s tight financial situation, and because his compensation is so much greater than that of the teachers who work for him.

“Whenever a leader denies himself or herself compensation, it shows they are in touch with the working class, the workers in the organization,” Teich said, adding that some teachers told her in 2016 that they were upset about Cruz’s 4 percent pay increase. “It would have shown espirit de corps with the teachers.”

She also said her abstention revolved around the performance of “some of the key leadership” in Cruz’s staff. Teich didn’t elaborate about specific employees but said Cruz is addressing her concerns.

Trustee Jayme Mathias lauded the district achievements, saying the successes “come down to leadership.”

“It seems right to compensate him in the same way,” Mathias said. “We look forward to the sharing of his gifts with our district for at least another three years.”

Cruz met other targets the board had set, including:

• posting the highest graduation rates to date at 90.7 percent;

• completing a 25-year facility master plan; and

• creating plans to boost achievement among African-American students and increasing socioeconomic diversity on campuses in District 1, the northeastern and eastern part of the school district that includes LBJ and Reagan high schools.

Despite the achievements, the 81,939-student district continues to have equity gaps and disparities among student groups and continues to lose students annually. This year, the Austin district posted its largest enrollment loss to date with 1,300 fewer students.

While Pace said there is still work to be done, the board feels “Cruz is moving in the right direction.”

Last year, the board was further divided over giving Cruz a raise and contract extension, with three trustees — Pace, Yasmin Wagner and Ted Gordon — abstaining.

Political watchers indicated Cruz’s 2017 evaluation would be more positive and would be light on constructive criticism to demonstrate trust in him, as the district works to avoid any negative attention before the Nov. 7 election on the district’s $1.1 billion bond package, the largest it has ever attempted. Early voting began Monday.

Cruz, the district’s first Latino superintendent, was tapped for the job in January 2015, after trustees short-circuited a national search to name Cruz among the finalists for the job. He was widely praised nine months later in his first evaluation.



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