6/19/14 ABSS begins superintendent search

ABSS begins superintendent search
Board eyeing two firms to handle process
By Isaac Groves, The Times-News 6/19/14  
Reprinted with permission.      

   So far, the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education is looking at two firms to start its search for a new superintendent for the school system.

   The choice could be price versus transparency, and the process could drag on past the November election, said Patsy Simpson, the board vice chair who is not up for re-election this year.

   “It is my desire to do it before,” Simpson said.

   One firm, the N.C. School Boards Association, found candidates for the board to choose from the last few times ABSS needed a superintendent, including outgoing Superintendent Lillie Cox.

   The other, McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., has done many superintendent searches around the country, including one for Wake County Public Schools that led to the hiring of former ABSS Superintendent Jim Merrill.

   Board attorney Kathleen Kennedy said these were two organizations known to her law firm, Tharrington Smith. The board did not ask for a comprehensive request for proposals. Both will advertise and recruit nationwide, but the cost difference is notable.

   The NCSBA charges $16,000 plus the cost of advertising and travel expenses for candidates, among other things. According to the three-page memo, NCSBA estimates the total bill being no more than $23,000 unless the board pays an unusual amount for travel costs.

   According to its 54-page proposal, McPherson & Jacobson charges $25,900 for the search plus a similar list of expenses, which the proposal says will be explained and agreed to before the board makes a commitment.

   According to a 2012 proposal with itemized fees and expenses with Muscogee County School District in Georgia, McPherson & Jacobson charged $18,410 in expenses as well as the $25,900 fee.

   Board members wanted to know how close the nearest McPherson & Jacobson consultant was, which could affect travel expenses. None in North Carolina was listed in the proposal, though there was one in Blacksburg, Va., and two in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

   Besides price, McPherson & Jacobson offers greater transparency and public involvement than a typical superintendent search.

   “It is my understanding that they get potential candidates to waive the confidentiality provided by law,” Kennedy said at the board’s meeting Monday.

   Potential hires have the same personnel confidentiality protections as public employees, Kennedy said. To give others besides board members a chance to meet and vet candidates, they would have to waive those rights.

   While this is a feature of McPherson & Jacobson’s proposal, Kennedy said, she thought the NCSBA might make a similar arrangement if the board asked.

   Simpson asked whether the board could conduct a search without an expensive search firm. She said now that she is retired from her career with the IRS, she could do a lot of the work on the search.

   “I’m spending eight hours a day since I retired (on) the school board; I figure I could offer my time and talent to save the system some money,” Simpson said. “I don’t see what’s so involved in making copies and arranging these schedules. What is so complicated about this that we pay that kind of money?”

   Kennedy said boards do find superintendents without search firms, but usually when they already have a candidate in mind. Starting a nationwide search from scratch takes a lot of time.

   Board member Steve Van Pelt said he did not yet have enough information to make a good decision and wanted to have representatives from both make presentations to the board.

   The board’s next scheduled meeting is July 21.

   Simpson said the delay could push the timeline for selecting a new superintendent past the election in November. Of the three open seats on the board, only Chairman Tony Rose is running for re-election. Simpson said that could lead to the kinds of problems Durham’s school board had with new members getting involved with the selection process midway.

   Four members of the board voted to accept Cox’s resignation at a special called meeting May 30. The other three members either could not or refused to attend that meeting.