Durham board hires superintendent search firm

Mar. 20, 2014 @ 05:01 PM

Iowa-based Ray & Associates Inc. will lead the hunt for a new superintendent for Durham Public Schools.

The DPS Board of Education on Thursday approved the choice in a 5-1 vote. Omega Curtis Parker was the lone member to vote against hiring the 38-year-old firm.

Parker favored North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) in Raleigh, which finished a close second with most members of the board.

She said she favored NCSBA because it is well-versed in North Carolina law and is in tune with the educational challenges facing Durham and North Carolina.  

“They seem to know what’s relevant to our community,” Parker said.

School board member Fredrick Davis did not attend the meeting.

NCSBA, a professional organization that represents all 115 local boards of education in North Carolina, conducted the board’s search in 2009 that yielded Eric Becoats. He resigned in December. Hugh Osteen has since served as interim superintendent.

The board’s vote in favor of Ray & Associates came after a morning session during which it received presentations from the four firms vying for the job.

Two firms -- BWP & Associates of Libertyville, Ill., and Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson LLC. -- didn’t appear to rank high on any board member’s list.

School board member Leigh Bordley said she rated Ray & Associates highly because the firm will provide the board with multiple ways to view the candidate and also because it promises the largest pool of candidates.

“I think we want the largest pool possible,” Bordley said. “To me, it seems like they would cast the widest net.”

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said she was impressed by Ray & Associates commitment to including candidates for school board in the search process. 

“They described the best process for involving folks who are running for school board,” Carter said. “All will have a mechanism for participating in the process.’

School board vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte-Brown, a member of the NCSBA’s Board of Directors, said Ray & Associates finished two points higher on her tally sheet than NCSBA.

Forte-Brown said she favored Ray & Associate because it has worked for larger, more urban school districts that are similar to Durham’s.

She said she was concerned that McPherson & Jacobson and BWP have conducted searches mostly for small districts and that McPherson & Jacobson had only conducted one search in North Carolina, the most recent one for the Wake County superintendent.

Ray & Associates will charge the board $28,000, plus expenses for its services.

Gary Ray, president of the firm, said expenses usually run around $7,500.

The NCSBA would have charged $15,000 plus expenses, which were estimated to be about $7,000.

All firms agreed to conduct an open search or hybrid search in which only finalists are made public, although the NCSBA cautioned against an open search because it might discourage top candidates from applying.

The board authorized Carter and Forte-Brown to work with district administrators and Ray & Associates to develop a plan about how to proceed, including ways to engage the community and a timeframe for hiring a new superintendent.

Carter said she has not ruled out the possibility of the new superintendent being hired by the current board, but acknowledged the board would be on a tight schedule to do so.

“I’m not ready to say that yet,” Carter said. “I want to talk with Ray & Associates first.”