Several members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board went into an Aug. 10 meeting skeptical of national search firms and how much help they’d be in finding a new superintendent for the school system.

Now, not so much.

“I do feel that the proposals that were made the other night were strong,” Board President Barbara Freiberg said. “The firms obviously have a nice national network. I’m leaning more toward getting a national firm than I was before.”

The board plans to decide Thursday whether to hire one of three firms, or whether to go in a different direction.

Before the Aug. 10 presentations, Freiberg was one of those questioning whether a search firm was necessary. The three presentations, however, left her impressed with the experience that such firms bring.

“It made me think less about getting someone local or having a university or another group do the search,” she said.

Freiberg said she still wants community leaders to have an active role in the search.

Jerry Arbour, Freiberg’s predecessor, oversaw the search that led to the 2009 hiring of John Dilworth. In May, Dilworth announced he won’t stay beyond his three-year contract, which expires in June. Arbour said the 2009 search, handled by a search firm that did not reapply this time, was well done.

“This search will be measured against the previous search. The previous search was pretty transparent,” Arbour said.

Arbour also suggested search firms free the board to deal with other school business.

But with other board members still debating alternatives, Arbour is not placing any bets.

“I don’t have a feel for whether we’re going to hire a search firm,” he said.

The three firms that presented Aug. 10 and their suggested fees are:

• McPherson & Jacobson of Omaha, Neb., $33,500, plus up to $14,420 in expenses.

• PROACT of Wilmette, Ill., a flat $32,500.

• Ray & Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, an estimated fee of $36,800. The firm also charges an hourly rate of $100 for one of their consultants and $25 for an administrative assistant, plus expenses.

All three firms have agreed to reduce those fees if the school system bypasses some or all of the development of the candidate profiles they all suggest in their proposals. Instead, the School Board is considering simply adopting a variation of the profile it used in 2009.

PROACT looks to have the closest to an inside track and it gave the longest presentation of the three. Freiberg, Arbour and board member David Tatman gave PROACT the best marks of the three presenters.

The firm handled the 2005 search that led to the hiring of Chief Academic Officer Bob Stockwell. It also handled the 2010 search that ended with the rehiring of current Chief Academic Officer Herman Brister Sr.

Gary Solomon, chief executive officer of PROACT, worked with the school system in 2008 and 2009 under a school improvement contract as part of the company Synesi & Associates, which Solomon currently serves as president. PROACT also has hired Jim Huge, a former superintendent and veteran search consultant. Both Solomon and Huge handled Thursday’s presentation.

The firm said it focuses on large urban school districts, though it did handle a recent search for the local charter school group Advance Baton Rouge, which operates five schools in the greater Baton Rouge area.

Freiberg agreed that PROACT had a good presentation, but said she is still checking the firm’s record before making a judgment.

PROACT, under different management, unsuccessfully sought to lead the search that led to the hiring of Dilworth.

“I wasn’t very impressed with the one three years ago, but Gary Solomon and Jim Huge made a very good presentation,” Arbour said.

Charles Lussier covers education in East Baton Rouge Parish for The Advocate. His email is