No contract extension for Austin schools chief Meria Carstarphen, for now

Austin school district Superintendent Meria Carstarphen will not receive a contract extension as her annual performance review is completed Monday night, district officials say.

After four years at the helm, Carstarphen’s contract is set to expire in June 2015 but could be extended at any time by the nine-member school board, which includes three new trustees who have questioned her leadership.

Board President Vincent Torres plans to make a public statement Monday about her successes and areas in which she needs to improve — a presentation that will be scrutinized for signs of whether she has the favor of the majority of the board.

“The contract is still under discussion and is not being acted upon at this time,” Torres said. He said the public statement this year will be “comparable” to those in years past, but he declined to elaborate.

At least one of Carstarphen’s critics is trying to turn up the heat.

Last week, community activist Paul Saldaña sent an email blast to more than 1,000 recipients calling for change in leadership.

Saldaña pointed to lagging graduation rates among low-income and Hispanic students compared with other Texas urban school districts and a declining student enrollment. He says Carstarphen’s administration does not communicate with the community or engage with residents who should be considered collaborators in decision-making. The district should focus on regaining their trust, he says.

Carstarphen remains strongly supported by the business community, some board members and other community members.

Drew Scheberle, vice president of education for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, a known supporter of the superintendent, pointed to a record overall student graduation rate and an increase in college and career readiness.

He said the board must come together to work on the district’s $25 million budget gap and its facility master plan, due in June.

“A deeply divided board over management only complicates resolutions to these difficult issues,” he said.

The annual review will not come with an increase in pay. Like other employees, Carstarphen was eligible for a payout equivalent to 1.5 percent of her $283,412 annual salary this year, but, as in past years, she declined the increase.

In other board action, trustees will consider whether to choose the most rigorous path to graduation as the district’s default graduation plan for all students. The track requires four years of English, math and science, and three years of social studies. The plan also requires Algebra 2 to be one of the four math classes and the fourth year of science to be an advanced course. The plan has the support of the district staff, which is recommending that the school board approve it.

The “distinguished level of achievement” graduation plan is required to qualify for automatic admission to state universities if students are in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.

But at least two trustees were hesitant to embrace the plan as the default in a previous board discussion, questioning the value of Algebra 2 in preparing students, among other reasons.

The board also could vote on whether to place an all-girls school at Pearce Middle School and an all-boys school at Garcia Middle School. Both single-sex schools are scheduled to open in August. Trustees will also vote on school names: the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Garcia and the Young Women’s Academy at Pearce.

Students in the attendance areas of the two schools will have to opt in, rather than choose to attend alternative middle schools, district officials said. Recruiters, currently being hired by the district, will visit the elementary schools that feed into the two middle schools to tell grade-school students about the new academies. The recruiters will also visit prospective students in their homes.

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