Austin district trustees lauded Superintendent Paul Cruz for the district’s gains in academic achievement and for building stronger community relationships, as they gave him a 4 percent raise on Monday night, bringing his base salary to $306,363.
In his first full annual evaluation, the board also extended Cruz’s contract an additional two years to Dec. 31, 2019. His 4 percent raise is the same increase given to all employees this year.
The decision, however, was not unanimous. Trustee Ted Gordon said he abstained from both the vote on the evaluation, which was approved by all other trustees, and the raise and contract extension because he missed a previous meeting when the board conducted the evaluation process. Board President Kendall Pace and Trustee Yasmin Wagner also abstained from the vote on the raise and contract extension but did not give reasons.
The board praised Cruz for increased graduation rates, which hit another all-time high at 89.7 percent. And they credited him for his multi-faceted enrollment plan (which included hiring a marketing firm)to slow down the district’s loss of students. The plan includes bringing in new students by allowing transfers from other area school districts and expanding prekindergarten to 3-year-olds. Those efforts meant the student population decreased less than projections said it would, and district leaders hope they will curtail future losses; enrollment is expected to drop more than 7 percent by 2025 to 77,628.
The summary of his performance, read by Pace, also praised Cruz for being “an engaging people-oriented person who knows the value of investing time and effort in building positive internal and external relationships.”
“Overall, the board feels that Dr. Cruz is moving in the right direction for the upcoming year,” Pace said.
The board, however, did challenge Cruz to strengthen academics and reduce gaps between different groups of students. Graduation rates for black and Latino students, at 84.6 percent and 88.4 percent, respectively, lag the overall rate. The graduation rate for white students is 93.5 percent.
“We know that equity gaps exist and there is a great disparity in outcomes across not only our segregated district but also between demographically similar campuses in close proximity,” Pace said.
She also said the board wanted Cruz to focus on strengthening district leadership, describing the increase of principal turnover as “concerning.”
Cruz has been criticized forthe delay in offering a LASA-like magnet or similar offering in South Austin, enforcement of an unpopular attendance policy that counts documented illnesses against student records, and the lack of recess at some schools, largely those with high populations of low-income students, among other things.
“We know there is still work to do to strategically increase overall enrollment,” Pace said. “We have great demand for some specialty programs that need to expand…and we need to listen to those families who have left over the years but are still in Austin.”
Cruz, the district’s first Latino superintendent, was named interim in April 2014 before being hired to lead the district in January 2015.