El Paso Independent School District trustees will use an executive search firm to help recruit and screen candidates for its next superintendent, keeping with district tradition and that of most large Texas school districts.

The decision Tuesday morning to rely on a firm wasn’t unanimous, with trustees Josh Acevedo, Diane Dye and Chuck Taylor voting not to direct district staff to seek proposals from “qualified, reputable superintendent search firms.” Trustees Daniel Call, Bob Geske, Freddy Klayel-Avalos and Al Velarde favored going with a firm.

Once EPISD receives proposals, trustees could decide to interview firms before selecting one. While search firms identify potential candidates, the ultimate decision in hiring a superintendent rests with the school board.

Most of the state’s major urban districts have a history of hiring a search firm to assist them find a new superintendent. Last week, the Houston Independent School District school board selected Austin-based JG Consulting to lead its search. That same firm worked with the Austin Independent School District last spring, which resulted in AISD hiring a top Dallas Independent School District administrator to lead the district.

San Antonio’s North East Independent School District opted not to do an external search in 2019, instead naming their interim superintendent as the lone finalist after four months in the role.

EPISD relied on a firm to hire former superintendent Juan Cabrera in 2013, as well as his predecessor Lorenzo Garcia in 2006.

District attorney Cezzy Collins recommended trustees use a firm, telling them at a meeting last week “it would be a daunting task for the board to try to do on their own.” The Texas Association of School Boards Legal Services does not recommend boards attempt to do a superintendent search entirely on their own, she said.

Using a firm will cost EPISD no more than $50,000, she estimated.

EPISD’s two main teacher unions oppose using a search firm because they were unhappy with the previous candidates found through national searches. Cabrera resigned in October after he was sued in California and Garcia was convicted of federal fraud charges.

Acevedo echoed these concerns Tuesday, saying “we’re going to find another money hungry individual coming into this community.”

Dye and Taylor did not share why they voted against seeking proposals from firms.

A firm will ensure that confidentiality is maintained during the search process, Velarde said, because the firm, and not the district, will keep candidate applications. “It creates a very small opportunity for having information getting leaked out, and for people who are applying for this position that could be sensitive to them … because they may not be willing yet to let their employers, their districts know they’re looking at this opportunity,” Velarde said.

Velarde and Call voiced support for conducting a national search for candidates, which is typical of large districts. “I want to have options when I’m making this decision,” Call said. “I think when you have competition, the best choice tends to rise to the top.”

The scope of the search won’t be decided until the board hires a firm.

Staff will now seek proposals from superintendent search firms, including TASB’s Executive Search Services and Education Service Center-Region 19. They will also vet the firms.

There is no timeframe for the bid process, said district spokesperson Gustavo Reveles.

It is unlikely trustees will hire Cabrera’s replacement before the May 1 school board elections, when four trustees are up for reelection. It takes an average four to five months to hire a superintendent from the time a search firm is hired, which includes the state-mandated 21-day waiting period between naming a lone finalist and offering that person a contract.

Molly Smith has been a reporter for the El Paso Times and The (McAllen) Monitor. She’s covered education, criminal justice and local government. A Seattle native, she’s lived in Texas since 2014.