"Best practice dictates that we must do a national search," Trustee Judith Cruz said, the first of several trustees to argue in favor of the process.
The first of the two agenda items, which would have named Lathan the sole finalist for the role, failed 6-3. Trustees Wanda Adams, Patricia Allen and Kathy Blueford-Daniels supported hiring the interim superintendent, who has held the post for over two and a half years. The same three subsequently voted against resuming a national search. A Texas Education Agency official intervened to suspend the district's search process in March 2019 amid an investigation into several members of the board.
Public comments included several teachers and principals who supported Lathan, noting her leadership through several crises, including Hurricane Harvey and the threat of a Texas Education Agency takeover of the board of trustees.
Ahead of the votes, board President Sue Deigaard said the votes represented an opportunity to show the public that the new board of trustees could work collaboratively and transparently.
"We have the opportunity tonight to demonstrate that we can navigate through an incredibly difficult decision about one of the most fundamental responsibilities any board has," Deigaard said.
Adams, who cast one of her last votes as a trustee because of being elected to serve as a Justice of the Peace court judge, said the split vote instead demonstrated the board's deep divisions.
"Am I shocked? No," she said. "No, Sue, we're not a team of 10. ... We're so far—we're not even a team of eight or a team of four or a team of five. We're so far off."
Deigaard said she hoped Lathan would be a candidate in the search and asked that a fair, data-driven approach be used in the selection process.
It was not immediately clear how the search would proceed and whether the TEA's previous order to suspend the search remained in effect.
The TEA and the trustees are now in a Texas Supreme Court battle over the agency's takeover of the board. If TEA is allowed to proceed, both the board of trustees and the superintendent could be replaced.