Though he’s the highest-paid employee at the Houston Independent School District, and the $300,000 annual salary he earns comes from taxpayers, Superintendent Terry Grier’s yearly job review is confidential.
In response to a public records request by Texas Watchdog last year, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled that Grier’s performance evaluation could remain secret. Evaluations for other school superintendents throughout the state are also generally confidential under state law as well.
That confidentiality stands even though Grier’s contract contains another $87,500 in performance bonuses the superintendent could earn if he meets certain goals and the nine-member school board approves of his work.
“Dr. Grier is eligible for two bonuses,” said Jason Spencer, an HISD spokesman, in an e-mail. “One is based on student academic performance using specific targets. The maximum payout for this bonus is $50,000. The other bonus is based on his annual performance evaluation. If the Board gives him a ‘satisfactory’ evaluation, he receives $37,500.”
Texas Watchdog submitted a public records request Tuesday to HISD for this year’s job-performance evaluation of Grier.
HISD Trustee Harvin Moore, who represents District VII, said Grier’s evaluation also is confidential because the contract that the district signed with the superintendent contains that stipulation.
“I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he said. “But I think it works well, as it allows the trustees to have the most broad discussion possible with as many topics as possible, and there will be no second-guessing that anyone weighted different things wrong.”
In the end, Moore said, the public may observe whether the superintendent achieved his performance-bonus goals because they’ll be able to track how many dollars end up being added to his salary.
Phone interviews on Tuesday with a number of HISD trustees showed they view Grier’s been doing a decent job this year -- and since he arrived in September 2009.
“He’s doing pretty well, especially with the enormous amount of fundamental change the district is going through,” Moore said.
HISD has a $1.6 billion budget and educates 203,000 students.
Moore cautioned that Grier’s evaluation is not yet complete. Trustees are scheduled to meet on Thursday to continue the superintendent-review process.
“I think sometime in the next few weeks (Grier) will be handed the evaluation summary,” Moore said.
While, at present, the public won’t be able to read how different board members weighted, voted on or reached consensus on various categories under which Grier is being judged, HISD constituents already may see how well Grier has done according to the district’s own data, which HISD has made public.
Those measures show that Grier did not meet HISD goals set for student achievement in 16 out of 24 categories.
The school board uses an evaluation form that consists of data measurements in categories such as the increase in student college readiness; recruiting and retaining the best teachers and principals; and improving the public support and confidence in HISD schools.
But Trustee Lawrence Marshall, District IX, described Grier’s two-year tenure as superb.
“I’m ready to give him the bank,” Marshall said of Grier’s potential bonuses. “He’s brought a game plan and prescribed remedies. What Grier (is) attempting to do is fix a problem by being creative.”
Caronetta Jones, 60, last year’s president of the Houston Independent School District's Council of PTAs, agreed with Marshall.
“I think (Grier) has done a phenomenal job,” said Jones, who has a grandson attending an HISD school and whose daughter attended an HISD school. “As with any administrator, you’ve got to play cleanup before you can initiate your own ideas.”
Jones had special praise for Grier’s ability to connect with the community.
“That’s key to me,” she said. “He’s a hands-on person. I like that.”
Beth Brown, a 54-year-old mother of two boys enrolled in HISD schools, concurred with Jones that Grier had mastered the ability to sell his ideas.
“But on implementation, based on what I see in the schools, I would give him a ‘D,’” Brown said. “There is division among parents, teachers, schools and I believe board members. We need a leader, not a divider.”
Trustee Manuel Rodriguez, District III, emphasized that he wasn’t ready to reveal which way he’d vote on extending Grier’s contract, which is up for renewal next year.
“After a review of the accomplishments of the district, and listening to his rebuttal on different things, his evaluation is just over the ‘average’ line,” Rodriguez said.
But, he added, “My own personal view is that so far he’s shown me he’s doing right by the kids ... He’s put together a pretty good team and is moving the district forward in the way the board gave him mandate for him to move it. He’s been doing the job he’s been hired to do.”
Grier “has his pluses and his minuses,” said Trustee Mike Lunceford, District V. He credited the superintendent for recognizing that not all schools are the same, that some are struggling.
“So, at the same time, you can’t treat them all the same,” Lunceford said. “If schools at the top are doing something correctly, then maybe we need to take a look at the schools at the bottom and (how) they should be managed.”
Lunceford and Trustee Greg Meyers, District VI, each said they wanted to use this year’s experience to further hone and improve the way in which the board evaluates HISD superintendents.
Contact Mike Cronin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.
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