Search firm accused of withholding candidate information

Mar. 24, 2014 @ 07:31 PM

The firm chosen by the school board to search for a new Durham Public Schools superintendent has faced criticism for allegedly withholding information about recommended candidates.

Iowa-based Ray & Associates, the firm selected by the DPS Board of Education last week, was criticized by at least one school board member in Madison, Wisc., who complained the firm did not provide a full accounting of controversial issues in the background of superintendent finalist Walter Milton Jr., who eventually dropped out of contention for that school district’s top post.

Ray & Associates also was the target of criticism in Mississippi when it handled the State Superintendent of Education search.

The Mississippi Board of Education eventually hired Carey Wright, a former Washington, D.C., school official who was the chief academic officer of the D.C. Public Schools in 2011-12 when teachers were accused of changing students test answers to improve scores.

Carey was not implicated in the scandal, but Ray & Associates was taken to task for not mentioning it to the Mississippi School Board.   

When reached Monday, Gary Ray, president of the firm, denied reports that Ray & Associates hides negative information about candidates from its clients.

“That’s not true,” Ray said. “In today’s world, why would we ever do that?”

Ray said Wright was never accused of wrongdoing or charged with any offense in the cheating scandal in D.C.

“When no one has committed a crime or been involved, there’s nothing to report,” Ray said.

And Ray said the school board in Wisconsin had all of the information about Milton, who was found by the New York state auditor to be overpaid while superintendent in Fallsburg, N.Y.

“I have a letter from the entire board saying they knew everything about Walter Milton,” Ray said.

The auditor also found that Milton had not fully reimbursed expenses on a district credit card. He also was criticized for hiring a colleague while employed as a school administrator in Flint, Mich.

Ray noted that Milton was never recommended by Ray & Associates as a finalist. He said the board brought Milton’s name forward after one of the two finalists withdrew from consideration.

News articles about Ray & Associates’ handling of the search in Mississippi and the one in Wisconsin was brought to The Herald-Sun’s attention by Steve Gatlin, a candidate in the District 3 school board race.

“I discovered that stuff in five minutes doing a Google search,” Gatlin said.

He said the discovery doesn’t mean Ray & Associates isn’t qualified to conduct the search.

“The school board should request that Ray & Associates make a statement addressing the allegations,” Gatlin said.

He also questioned why the school board had not discovered that Ray & Associates had been accused of withholding information about job candidates.

“I think the board should make a statement about why they’re not researching more thoroughly and about what they’re going to do moving forward,” Gatlin said.

The board is scheduled to consider how to proceed with the superintendent search when it meets on Thursday.

Chairwoman Heidi Carter said Monday that the board will discuss Ray & Associates’ handling of the searches in Mississippi and Wisconsin.

She said it is important that the search firm have the trust of the board and the community.

Ray & Associates was chosen from among four search firms and will charge the school district $28,000 plus expenses.

Board members liked the 38-year-old firm’s experience conducting searches for districts that are similar to Durham, its pledge to spend lots of time creating a superintendent profile and the fact that the superintendents it places spend on average eight years in the job.

The board was also sold on Ray & Associates’ two-year guarantee.