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While Hinojosa Applied for Georgia Job in Secret, Texas Lawmakers Considered Making Superintendent Searches More Public

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ight now, DISD trustees are meeting once again in closed session (Leslie drew the short straw on this one) to discuss their pick for an interim superintendent once Michael Hinojosa exhales his first fresh breaths in Cobb County.

All the discussions of particular candidates have taken place behind closed doors -- giving me some much-needed time to outline my DISD fan-fic novel, but ultimately leaving most of us in the dark. Carla Ranger, of course, is none too pleased, and used her blog to publicly recommend former DISD super Nolan Estes for an encore at the district.

Today, Texas Watchdog says it's all just the latest skirmish in an epic conflict over the secrecy surrounding superintendent picks. On Wednesday, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas also wondered: why are superintendent picks made in the dark, while police chiefs, city managers and other picks are relatively open?

In fact, a bill by State Sen. Kein Eltife would've changed that, requiring districts to publicly name three finalists for the superintendent job three weeks before making their call. In a hearing before the House Public Education Committee, FOIFT directo Keith Elkins said the problem is "one of the number-one complaints" he hears. Keeping hiring decisions in the back room, he said, only protects "what the superintendents want, not what the parents want or what is best for the child."

The bill, backed by Texas press groups as well, made it out of the Senate but never saw the House floor for a vote.

Doug Toney of the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and the Texas Press Association explained the current system's problems before the House Public Education Committee a few weeks ago. While the public gets plenty of access to news about how other public officials are hired, a school district's naming of finalists for the job is usually a formality -- because there's often just one finalist. "They have no opportunity to provide input on who was considered because they only know one name," Toney said.

Just try and imagine how embarrassing it would be for a sitting superintendent if folks in his current district heard he was leaving. So in Texas today, nobody's got to know until the final call's made. "That might be great for them, but it's a bad deal for taxpayers in both districts," Toney said.

While teacher groups supported the bill too, the Texas Association of School Administrators had been opposed to it -- until lawmakers added in a compromise that'd let candidates pull their names from consideration before they're named publicly. Realistically, said TASA's Neil Adams, that would give runners-up a way out: if they heard they weren't going to be the district's top pick, they'd simply bow out early and keep the whole thing secret.

It's the second time Eltife filed a bill like this, so he may try again in two years -- or, if someone dreams up a way to tie the bill school finance, it could be refiled in the special session going on right now.

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