The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board heard presentations from three national search firms Wednesday night as it wrestles with how it wants to go about finding its next superintendent.
The School Board took no action, but plans to act at its Aug. 18 regular board meeting. It’s not clear if the board will hire any of the firms who presented, or whether it will opt to go in another direction to replace Superintendent John Dilworth who said in May that he will leave in June 2012 when his three-year contract expires.
Here are the search firms that presented Wednesday and their requested fees:
• McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Neb., $33,500, plus up to $14,420 in expenses.
e_SBlt PROACT of Wilmette, Ill., a $32,500 flat fee.
e_SBlt Ray & Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, an estimated fee of $36,800. The firm also offers an hourly rate of $100 per hour for one of its consultants and $25 for an administrative assistant, plus expenses.
The presentations ranged.
McPherson & Jacobson has conducted lots of searches, including a search for the Las Vegas public school district, one of the largest in the country, but most are smaller.
“Seventy-five percent of the school districts are small,” said John Smith, a representative with the firm, noting that reflects the nation as a whole.
PROACT representatives Jim Huge and Gary Solomon said they are more selective.
“We don’t chase every search, just districts 25,000 students and up,” Solomon said.
Bill Newman, national executive director of Ray & Associates, said his firm does it all.
“We’ve done districts as few as 300 students to one with more than 100,000 students,” Newman said, adding that it’s “very common” for his firm to work with districts of 25,000 to 50,000 students.
Each firm made potentially conflicting promises to be open and follow Louisiana open meetings and public records laws while maintaining as much confidentiality as possible with Huge and Solomon saying the most on the topic.
Huge said he’s conducted searches in Florida, a state known for expansive public records laws, and was able to find good candidates through targeted recruiting and helping candidates break the news carefully to their current employers.
“I’m not aware of it reducing the numbers of candidates,” he said.
“I personally feel if you can’t stand the heat of having his name mentioned, you can’t handle this job,” said School Board member Jerry Arbour.
Newman said his firm is versed in handling open searches. “We understand the difference between ‘right to know’ and ‘need to know,’ ” Newman said.
“The issue is getting people to apply knowing they are going to be disclosed,” Newman said. “If they’re in a job now, we can protect up to a certain point, but then they’re going to be exposed.”
The board has a list of 14 characteristics of an ideal superintendent developed during the 2009 search that resulted in the hiring of Dilworth and is considering adopting a version of it soon. All three firms said they would agree to cut their fees to avoid that work again.
PROACT, which has handled searches in the past for the parish school system, gave the longest presentation.
Addressing a concern of School Board member Craig Freeman, a self-confessed skeptic of search firms, Solomon, chief executive officer of PROACT, said “we don’t have a stable of people who we place.”
Solomon said East Baton Rouge Parish has a good record of education reforms, ones not recognized by the public but known in the education world.
“You will get a deeply talented committed slate,” Solomon said. “You will not want for talent here.”