St. John’s search for school chief slow going

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 2, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

RESERVE – The St. John Parish School Board convened in a special meeting Thursday to discuss which hiring firm they should take on to aid in the search for a new superintendent.
The board had mentioned in the past that it would like to have a new superintendent in time for the upcoming school year, so the topic is a pressing one in the community.
Two companies conducted 10-minute presentations via video conference software with a small amount of time afterward for questions from the board.
The first firm, Proact Search, informed board members that their bottom line cost would total $17,250. This price would include all of the services provided during the search but would not include the travel costs of potential candidates. The firm’s representative, Gary Soloman, said it would be at least eight weeks before candidates could be presented for interview. The rough timeframe included some allowances for stakeholder engagement work in the community. The company also made mention of its work for East Baton Rouge School District last year and the Recovery School District during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates Executive Search representative Benjamin Martindale conducted his firm’s presentation next. The company gave a $19,500 price tag for its consultant fee with an estimated $3,500 tacked on for potential travel and correspondence costs. The firm has worked with the Jefferson Parish School District in the past and also offered comprehensive first-year support for an additional $10,000. Their timeline required an estimated 16 weeks to complete the search.
The board hemmed and hawed over whether should make a decision immediately, wait until they’d gathered more information about the companies from the local school systems they had already worked with, or wait until next fall to begin the search to have access to better candidates. The board also debated which firm would be more cost-effective with the use of local consultants.  
Board member Russ Wise made a motion to table the meeting, in part because he said he had not had a chance to review the information that the companies provided. The motion was not immediately seconded.
“I’m concerned that we have a long way to go and a short time to get there. It’s been my experience that if you wait too late, the only people who apply are people who haven’t been able to find jobs somewhere else. I think at the next meeting, I’m going propose two things: one is that we postpone this until next fall, the selection of the company and the actual beginning of the search. Which will give us several additional months and perhaps bring more people in to offer their services. But in particular, we will be in the pack as we search for the best and brightest, and I’m not sure we would get the best and brightest if we start now,” he said.
 “I think we need to make a decision today, because time is of the essence. I don’t think we can wait till the next meeting and all that stuff. You heard what the guy said, anywhere from a period of 16 weeks… If we’re going have someone on board July 1, we need to look at that,” said board member Dr. Gerald Keller.
Board member Keith Jones expressed the opinion that the district may do better overall if it stuck with a local search.
“I’m a team player, and I’m going to go whatever direction pleases the board, but I’m a stickler for cost savings. I want to go on record again and say that I think we should not use any firm and save the district $25 to $30,000. History sometimes repeats itself. Back when Dr. Courtney Millett applied for superintendent, we spent this money with Jacobson, and we wound up hiring a local candidate,“ he said.
“I don’t think we should rely on speaking to those other board members to make a decision on what we’re doing. The information is in front of us, we’ve got do whatever we need to make a decision now,” said board member Russell Jack.
Regarding postponing the decision, Jack went on to say: “Why are we holding all of these different meetings? This was supposed to be on the agenda at the last meeting, but it was taken off because they said it would take too much (time). Now we’re having another emergency meeting here, and now we’re tabling it. It seems that this board cannot come together and make a sound decision. I just don’t see the sense in what we’re doing.”
Jones pointed out that the morning’s agenda did not mention that any action must be taken.
The item was ultimately tabled pending the next meeting to allow the board members to talk with representatives of the East Baton Rouge School District.
The next St. John the Baptist Parish School Board meeting will take place March 7 at 6 p.m. in the Godchaux Grammar School Cafeteria.