Family, opportunity entice Dallas superintendent to Cobb

Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa told officials there less than a year ago he wouldn't look for other jobs, inking a five-year contract extension to keep him at the helm of the nation's 14th-largest school district.

But that was before Cobb County came calling, and before he found out he would be a grandfather for the first time.

These factors and others led the seasoned school superintendent, 54, to entertain the idea of moving to Cobb County Schools. Thursday, he was named the sole finalist for the district's top job, angering and surprising some back in Texas.

Hinojosa said he turned down two other job inquiries before Cobb showed interest two weeks ago. Just two weeks before that, he learned one of his sons, who lives in metro Atlanta, is going to become a father. Two other sons are attending college on the East Coast, one at Harvard, the other at Princeton.

The family ties, along with the potential Hinojosa sees in the suburban school district, made Cobb an attractive option.

“I’ve had a great career, and if my career ended today I would be happy," he said. "But I have a lot of energy left. And Cobb County has some of the ingredients that they could be the model of the future of education. They have a good staff and good performance, but they are changing demographically as well. So if someone can figure out how to make a district that is diverse the best district in America, I think that would be a great capstone on my career."

Hinojosa's work with at-risk student populations was part of the reason Cobb board members wanted to hire him, said Chairwoman Alison Bartlett. He was not one of the district's 16 initial applicants and had signed a contract extension after considering leaving Dallas late last year.

But board members heard his name tossed around as someone who might be a good fit and decided to approach him about making a move.

"In looking at the Dallas district, he moved the needle," Bartlett said. "He has a very high energy level for education. When you're in the room, you feel his enthusiasm."

Since 2005, economically disadvantaged students in Dallas have shown steady gains on state standardized tests in every subject. For example, 59 percent of students in this group passed math exams in 2005, while 76 passed in 2010, according to state testing data.

The district must wait two weeks before finalizing the deal with Hinojosa, and contract terms are not being released until then. But Bartlett said the two parties have already agreed on major details.

Hinojosa is one of the highest paid urban school superintendents in the country, with a base salary of $328,000, according to the Dallas Morning News. Cobb’s current superintendent has a base salary of $208,000, one of the lowest in the metro area.

Hinojosa's announcement Thursday that he would be leaving Dallas caught board members there by surprise and spurred some negative feedback. In a Friday blog post, board trustee Carla Ranger wrote that Hinojosa should be removed immediately.

"Superintendent Hinojosa has again acted in bad faith. The same bad faith was shown last year," she wrote.

Those who know Hinojosa said he's long had critics on the school board but credit him for his staying power. With six years in office, Hinojosa has exceeded the average term for urban superintendents, which is about four years.

Businesswoman Arcila Acosta, who worked with Hinojosa on a committee called Dallas Achieves Reform, described him as an amazing leader and a good listener whose first priority is always the kids.

“Our loss will be your immense gain," Acosta said.

Dallas Independent School District

Enrollment: About 158,000

Operating budget: $1.2 billion

Employees: 21,000

Number of schools: 225

Student ethnic make-up: 68.4 percent Hispanic; 25 percent black; 4.5 percent white; 1.1 percent Asian

Students on free or reduced lunch: 88 percent

Cobb County Schools

Enrollment: 106,700

Budget: $831.6 million

Employees: 14,027

Number of schools: 114

Student ethnic make-up: 44.5 percent white; 31.2 percent black; 16.5 percent Hispanic; 4.8 percent Asian; 2.7 percent multi-racial; less than 1 percent American Indian.

Students on free or reduced lunch: 43 percent

he is one of the highest paid urban school superintendents in the country, with a base

of $328,000, according to The Dallas Morning News. Cobb’s current superintendent has a base

of $208,000, is one of the lowest in the metro area.