Some School Board members criticize firm picking superintendent

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 15, 2008


Staff Reporter

RESERVE – St. John Superintendent to be Courtney Millet was named last week after a nearly six month long process that began after the St. John School Board chose not to renew current Super-intendent Michael Coburn’s contract.

Now that it is all over with, some School Board members have expressed discontent with the work of superintendent search firm McPherson and Jacobson.

At the beginning of the search the board retained the consulting firm and thus began a process that would not only give them a new superintendent, but a process the firm said would provide the best applicants from around the country.

After opening the position to applicants for a number of months in a locally and nationally publicized search, the consultants thought Millet, a 20-year veteran of the St. John School system, was one of the best applicants.

Although happy with the choice of Millet as superintendent, Board Member Clarence Triche said he was dissatisfied with the process, and would not ask McPherson & Jacobson to help in another search.

“I’m not very happy with their work,” said Triche. “I thought we would have had more apply.”

Originally, there were 11 applicants for the position, although one applicant was disqualified due to an incomplete application and another applicant rescinded their application early in the process.

Out of the remaining nine applicants, five were Louisiana residents and one was from Mississippi. The remaining three applicants, two of whom were brought in for interviews, were from Michigan, New York and Washington.

Tom Jacobson, Phd., owner of McPherson & Jacobson, said on average the firm receives between 10 to 15 applications in any search they do adding that the firm actively recruits many of the applicants.

In addition, he said it is typical for most of the applicants to live close to the position.

“People don’t like to get out of their comfort zone,” said Jacobson.

Board Member Ali Burl said he left the meeting when the consultants revealed the finalists for the position in lieu of voting on the measure.

“To make it fair we should have nominated at least two candidates from St. John. I didn’t like they were ready to make recommendations. We never were able to communicate and give our feedback,” said Burl. “We should have listened to the eldest member of the School Board…it would have saved us $30,000.”

Burl said Dowie Gendron, who recently stepped down from the board due to health issues, predicted the superintendent would be hired from within.

Board Member Russell Jack abstained in the vote to accept the finalists and said he had unanswered questions about how McPherson and Jacobson came up with the final four.

“I didn’t think there was enough communication with the board,” said Jack.

In response to this criticism Jacobson said the applicants were chosen based on criteria developed in meetings with the School Board as well as through background checks.

“The two ladies that worked that search…are two very detailed people who will do a lot of background checking,” said Jacobson.

He added that being fired from a previous position, as in the case of finalist Jerry Payne and Dr. John Garris would not automatically disqualify a candidate.

Board Member Patrick Sanders said that he would have liked to see the qualifications for the candidates who were not selected.

“Keep in mind, we did ask them to select the best candidates,” said Sanders.

In the end, Sanders said the process went well despite the candidate he voted for not getting the job.

He said he would hire the consulting firm again.

Jacobson said he will be meeting the school board in September to facilitate a yearlong process that will help the school board and the superintendent better define their roles in the school system.

“I am sure some of the lingering questions will be addressed,” said Jacobson.