The outgoing superintendent of the racially troubled Austin, Tex., school system has emerged as the leading candidate to fill the vacant $60,000-a-year post of school superintendent in Montgomery County.
Jack Davidson, who announced that he would resign as Austin superintendent at the end of the year after the School Board indicated his contract would not be renewed, is flying here with his wife Monday for a three-day, expense-paid visit to Montgomery County.
During his visit, Davidson will tour county schools, and meet with educators and community leaders.
The fact that Davidson, 53, is being brought here for interviews makes him the front-runner over two other contenders also selected this week as finalists for the Montgomery job.
Sources said there were no current plans for the other finalists -- Raymond Arveson, 58, superintendent of schools in Minneapolis, or Gene Geisert, 52, head of the New Orleans school system -- to be brought here.
"Davidson is the only one who has been invited so far," said Kenneth Muir of the board's information office. "If he determines he doesn't like us or the majority of the board doesn't think he is the ultimate candidate, they will invite one of the others to come."
One issue that Davidson is certain to be closely questioned on during his visit to Montgomery is his role during his 10 years as superintendent in Austin in that city's legal battle over busing.
Several Montgomery school board members yesterday expressed reservations about his record in that area.
"I've heard he [Davidson] drags his feet on racial matters," one board member, who asked that his name not be used, said.
In 1970, Austin schools became embroiled in a legal battle with the Justice Department over Austin's racially segregaged schools. Austin divided by Interstate 35, which connects Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, is 27 percent Mexican-American and 18 percent black.
After 10 years of court fights and appeals, Austin was ordered to begin busing this month to racially balance its 85 schools. It negotiated a delay, however, until September.
Davidson, who became Austin's superintendent shortly after the battle started, is criticized by some of Austin's minority leaders for not moving more rapidly to resolve the problem.
"He's not entirely to blame but he was not an advocate who said, 'Let's get with it,'" said Austin NAACP president Volma Overton. Overton's teen-age daughter was a co-plaintiff in the suit against Austin schools.
Davidson could not be reached for comment yesterday but long-time Austin School Board member Will B. Davis, who helped hire Davidson as superintendent, praised him as an "educational pragmatist" who is for desegregation but against busing.
"He sees it as a disruption of normal educational patterns of children," Davis said. "He believes that educational remedies are a better utilization of the public dollar than mass transportation of children."
Davis, an Austin attorney, described Davidson as an able administrator who introduced bilingual classes and other programs geared to help minority students in Austin schools.
Davis said the Austin board decided not to renew Davidson's contract because after 10 years it simply felt it was time for a change.
"Nobody's made at Jack," he said with a chuckle. "It's a pleasant parting."
Montgomery board members have not offered a contract to Davidson, who reportedly is also considering a similar school post in Fort Worth. But it next week's visit goes well, a contract could be the next step, shool officials say.
"The board will evaluate their impression of him and cogitate on the whole thing," said staff member Thomas Fess.
Montgomery school board members face a state-mandated February deadline for selecting a replacement for former school superintendent Charles M. Bernardo, who resigned during a flurry of controversy last spring when a court upheld school board efforts to oust him.
Many school officials and staff still hope that Interim Superintendent of Schools J. Edward Andrews, a well-liked veteran county school administrator, will become permanent in the job.
Andrews, who was never offered the position on a permanent basis, maintains that he does not want the job because of the amount of time needed to run the county's 185 schools.