Trustees should opt for transparency
On behalf of the taxpayers of the Port Aransas Independent School District, we urge the Board of Trustees to act in the interest of the public's right to know and transparency in government.
The issue is the decision to name only the lone finalist for the position of superintendent of the Port Aransas ISD.
Rick Adams, president of the Port Aransas ISD Board of Trustees, says revealing the names of the finalists would jeopardize the relationship between the finalists and the boards for which they currently work. More, he says, revealing the names of the finalists could eliminate them from any future effort by PAISD to attract candidates for superintendent.
We object, and we beg to differ.
We object to Adams apparently giving finalists greater priority over the taxpayers who elect the Board of Trustees.
We differ with his assessment of the dynamics of the relationships between finalists and the boards for which they currently work.
In Texas, school superintendents serve in a district for an average of three to five years. School trustees know that, and they know the longer a superintendent stays in a position, the more likely it is that he or she is looking to advance to the next level. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to any school board that its superintendent is a finalist for another position. In fact, in the Dallas-Fort-Worth area, one school board offered its superintendent a raise and a house when it learned he was a finalist for superintendent in another district.
Former PAISD Superintendent Billy Wiggins was drawing a salary of $110,000 plus benefits. What the salary of the new superintendent will be depends on many factors, but it can safely be assumed that it will be the better part of six figures.
That's taxpayer money, and taxpayers have a right to know the pool of finalists from which their next superintendent is selected.
This is not an unusual procedure. Just this week the City of Corpus Christi released the names and photos of the five finalists for city manager. A few city managers ago, the City of Port Aransas took it a step farther and held a reception to introduce to the public the five finalists for city manager.
Adams says the positions of city manager and superintendent and their relationships with city councils and school boards are different.
Again, we beg to differ.
Certainly there are differences between the operations of cities and schools, but the relationship of city manager to city council and superintendent to school board are mirror images. Both school boards and city councils are policy-making bodies that employ an administrator (superintendent/city manager) to carry out the day-to-day operations of the city/school.
The superintendent is the top paid executive at the school district, as is the city manager at the city. Significant tax dollars are spent on each. Taxpayers deserve, and have every right, to know the names of and background on the finalists for these important positions.
The South Jetty looks to the Texas Open Records Act, Section 552.126, for support in its written request to Adams to release the names of the candidates for superintendent the board elects to interview in person.
Section 552.126 provides "that the board of trustees must give public notice of the name or names of the finalists being considered for the position at least 21 days before the date of the meeting at which a final action or vote is to be taken on the employment of the person."
According to the Texas Attorney General's Web site, "An informal ruling, Open Records Letter No. 99-2495 (1999), applied section 552.126. In that ruling, the attorney general determined that section 552.126 protects all identifying information about superintendent applicants, not just their names. Section 552.126 does not protect the names of the finalists for a superintendent position.
Disclosure of the names of the finalists the board interviews would comply not only with the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law that protects the public's right to know.