Despite pleas for the Jefferson County Board of Education to reverse its decision to fire Superintendent Sheldon Berman, the board is moving forward with plans to replace him and will interview three executive search firms next week to aid them in their quest for a new leader.Kentucky's experience with Ray & Associates was disappointing to say the least. The state board's decision to conduct a secret search prompted alarm from Mark Hebert and caught the interest of bloggers at KSN&C and the Bluegrass Institute. Vetting by the bloggers revealed a series of resume errors and exaggerations. By contrast, the search firm's confidential files, obtained by KSN&C, revealed a process that was more promotional than critical. Much of the firm's effort involved selling candidates to the board. It didn't turn out well. Following a contentious period of suit and counter suit, KDE settled with Ray & Associates for $25,500, about half of the amount the company was demanding. Kentucky was not the only place things with the search firm went wrong.
One of the three firms the board will interview during a special meeting Wednesday is Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which helped the Kentucky Board of Education choose Illinois educator Barbara Erwin as the state’s new education commissioner in 2007, only to have her resign three days before she was to start work following revelations about her background, including that parts of her resume were inaccurate...
Once a firm is selected, Imhoff said it will immediately begin working to develop a process for selecting a superintendent, including recruiting candidates, checking their backgrounds and negotiating a contract.
Greenwood showed weaknesses similar to those of Ray & Associates when it failed to discover to creationist writings of Commissioner finalist Dennis Cheek. The revelations made public by KSN&C about Dennis Cheek should never have been news to the board, or the Greenwood, but they were. Fortunately, by that time, the board of education was listening and Cheek was not selected.
The three firms being considered are well-known across the country, and two have prior connections to Kentucky.
Ray and Associates was hired by the Kentucky Board of Education in 2007, but after Erwin resigned, state board members criticized Ray and Associates for not vetting her more closely and not informing them of them of her troubled reputation in previous school districts, including allegations that she had run roughshod over teachers and administrators when she was a superintendent in Texas, Arizona and Illinois. Ray and Associates countered that the firm did its job, saying they checked everything they were asked to check.
Greenwood/Asher & Associates also has prior experience in Kentucky. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education hired the firm in 2008 to help search for its new president, which resulted in the hiring of Robert King.
The Kentucky Board of Education also hired the firm in 2009 to search for an education commissioner, which resulted in the hiring of Terry Holliday. And the University of Kentucky recently hired the firm to help find a replacement for president Lee Todd, who is leaving when his contract expires in June.The lesson from all of this is that search firms can not be trusted to thoroughly vet candidates. Boards may need a firm to handle screening and making arrangements for interviews, etc., but in the end, the board must vet the candidates on their own. The Board can not outsource its responsibility to the public.
Imhoff said he’s not sure how much hiring a search firm will cost the district.
“We don’t have a budget on how much to spend,” he said. “Whether we hire a firm will depend on whether we feel they are a good fit and whether their cost is reasonable.”
Thomas Jacobson, the owner and chief executive officer of McPherson and Jacobson, said his firm has aided in more than 400 superintendent and executive searches in the past 20 years, for both small and large school districts.
“There are two things that distinguish us from other firms,” he said. “The first thing is that we believe in a very transparent search process with a high involvement of stakeholders. The other thing is that everyone who works for us has been or is involved with public education.”
Jacobson said his firm prides itself of properly vetting all candidates — both those who are recruited and those who apply for the job independently.
“We have an extensive process of vetting candidates,” he said. “It’s a very important part of the process.”Calls made Friday to Gary Ray, president of Ray and Associates, and Jan Greenwood, president and chief executive officer of Greenwood/Asher, were not returned.