Less than halfway through his four-year contract, Xavier De La Torre, the embattled chief of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, may be returning to Texas. Late Wednesday he was named the lone finalist for superintendent of the Ysleta Independent School District in El Paso.
In a 4-to-3 vote, the seven-member Ysleta board named De La Torre, 50, as the remaining candidate to take over the district of 45,000 students. Three board members supported an internal candidate, Tom Miller, instead. The district has a 21-day waiting period for candidates before they are selected, so the Ysleta board is expected to negotiate a contract and officially hire De La Torre on March 5.
De La Torre did not respond to requests for comment.
Santa Clara County School Board President Leon Beauchman said he had not known that De La Torre was in the running to lead the Texas district, which has about five dozen schools, but that the Santa Clara County board had known for a month that its superintendent was looking for another job. No one from Ysleta contacted him about job references, Beauchman said. "I was unaware of any school districts he had applied to," he said.
"We are happy for him," Beauchman said, but refused to comment on his performance as superintendent, noting the Ysleta grace period. "We are very respectful of the fact that he is being evaluated, and we don't discuss that in public."
Beauchman said that De La Torre wanted to return to a school district, rather than running a county office of education.
From 2009 to 2012, De La Torre led the Socorro Independent School District, a neighboring district to Ysleta. He became chief of the Santa Clara County Office of Education in July 2012, after the board of education hired him at a $299,500 annual salary, making him one of the highest-paid school leaders in California. Trustees, who were easing out former Superintendent Charles Weis, held great hopes that De La Torre would provide leadership for improving education, especially for poor and Latino children, and would enhance efficiency and effectiveness at the office of education.
But less than a year into his tenure, dissatisfaction with De La Torre bubbled up last spring. More and more employees told county school board members that he had created an atmosphere of fear that caused them to seek work elsewhere. Critics alleged that he has acted secretively, micromanaged tasks and retaliated against employees who questioned his administration's decisions.
In a harassment complaint, two employees charged De La Torre with creating a hostile work environment. The complaint, then-board President Grace Mah said last summer, was resolved.
In June, the board refused to add an extra year and a pension contribution to De La Torre's four-year contract. Both those benefits would have accrued automatically had he received a satisfactory annual review.
The county office of education runs Head Start, preschools, special education and schools for youths who have been jailed or expelled from their home schools. In addition, the county office provides payroll and other business services for many of the county's 31 school districts, and also offers hiring, technology, training, fiscal and academic oversight of school districts.
Beauchman said board members hope to appoint an interim leader soon, and start hunting for a new superintendent.
Alex Hinojosa of the El Paso Times contributed to this story. Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.