Warren Drake stock

East Baton Rouge Schools Supt. Warren Drake takes questions outside the school board office on Oct. 24, 2018.

The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board voted unanimously Thursday to have Austin-based JG Consulting head the search to find a replacement for outgoing East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake and lead the Louisiana’s second-largest public school district.

The unanimity of the vote was a surprise given the other applicant was prominent Baton Rouge firm SSA Consultants of Baton Rouge.

Both firms gave presentations Thursday. Both sketched out broadly similar work plans that would play out over three to four months: meetings with stakeholders, development of a candidate profile, advertising the position, ongoing recruiting, selecting finalists and then bringing them in for in-person interviews.

SSA, however, focused much more heavily on holding nine community meetings to help develop the profile of the ideal superintendent. JG is taking a more traditional approach holding a variety of meetings.

That emphasis on so many public meetings was part of why SSA’s suggested fee was $49,500 while JG is proposing to do the work for $25,000. Unlike JG Consulting, SSA’s fee did not cover travel expenses for bringing in candidates or for placing job ads, though the firm said that was negotiable.

Thursday’s vote gives board leadership the green light to negotiate a contract with JG Consultants.

JG Consulting specializes in searches for superintendents and top school executives. The firm was founded in 2014

JG’s founder, James Guerra, who will serve as principal consultant, gave the presentation and was questioned for about 90 minutes about twice as long as the board questioned SSA.

“Superintendent aren’t necessarily looking to leave,” Guerra said. “It’s up to us to recruit them.”

Guerra said past searches, he counted more than 80, have all been successful. He promised that the firm does not foist favorites on districts and it will not poach from clients.

“We will never recruit your superintendent away from East Baton Rouge,” he said.

Guerra started in education in 2003 and has worked with “the nation’s largest school districts in various capacities,” according to the firm's proposal. His résumé shows the bulk of previous jobs were in sales positions for private companies that work in public education.

Patricia Linares, who is listed as the firm's chief search officer, is a retired top administrator with the Ft. Worth Independent School District in Texas and briefly served as superintendent there. Senior search consultant Alton Frailey has worked as superintendent in four districts, including his current employer, the small Nacogdoches Independent School District in Texas, but his longest tenure, nine years, was with the large Katy Independent School District in suburban Houston.

SSA Consultants, the Baton Rouge firm, has provided executive search services for many local companies, organizations and government institutions during its 49 years in operation. These range from finding the executive director of Aunt Sally’s Pralines to new leaders for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and BREC.

SSA lists no past K-12 education searches in its proposal, though the firm has done other work for public school districts. A prominent example was its role in helping the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board develop its current strategic plan.

SSA's Consultants' team proposed included Chief Executive Officer Christel Slaughter and Partner Rudy Gomez. The firm has added two outside organizations to its team: Franklin Associates and Bayard Management Group.

Franklin’s president, Perry Franklin, formerly headed the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance in Baton Rouge. Franklin was hired in 2017 and 2018 to help develop a construction plan that was approved by voters in April 2018.

Bayard’s president, James Gilmore, served a short stint in 2017 as assistant administrative officer under East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome. Gilmore currently serves as chief administrative officer of the East Baton Rouge Council on Aging.

JG also "add-on services," including professional development from what it describes as its faculty of 25 current and former school executives. It also proposes an annual leadership academy for aspiring leaders and superintendents. Guerra, however, said hiring JG for additional work is up to the board.

“We will not love and leave you,” he said. “This is not the last time you will see us.”

Drake is set to retire on June 30, a little over eight months from now.

He has served as the East Baton Rouge’s top school executive for the past five years. He spent most of his career with the school system but was best known for the decade he spent leading the new Zachary school district, which quickly shot to the top of the state rankings.

Email Charles Lussier at clussier@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.