School board to seek search firm in superintendent search

Jan. 14, 2014 @ 06:18 PM

The school board on Tuesday agreed to solicit proposals from up to 10 firms to help in its search for a new superintendent to replace Eric Becoats, who resigned last month under pressure after a series of high-profile missteps.

The board also named acting Superintendent Hugh Osteen interim superintendent and increased his salary by $4,000 a month while he serves in the interim post.

The decision to issue the RFP’s (requests for proposals) is the first step in a search process school officials expect will take at least six months, making it unlikely the current board will hire the new superintendent.

The board discussed only briefly whether the current board or the next board should hire the next superintendent, but members acknowledged that a six-month search process appears to favor the next board hiring the superintendent.

“We won’t be ready to ID anyone in any time less than six months,” said School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter.

Four of the board’s seven seats are up for grabs in the May election.

At least two new members will be elected because Nancy Cox and Fredrick Davis have said they will not run for reelection.

Board members elected in May will likely be sworn sometime in early July.

School board vice Chairwoman Minnie Forte Brown said she strongly believes the next board should do the hiring because voters will be asked to fill four of the board’s seven seats.

“That would be a majority” Brown said in an interview following Tuesday’s meeting.

The board also left , for another day other questions surrounding the search, such as whether the process should be an open one or closed.

Carter said both styles of searches have merit, noting that the county has launched a closed process for a new county manager and that the school board in Wake County has decided to have an open process in its search for a superintendent.

It is often said that an open search process does not yield the best candidates because it discourages the cream of the crop from applying for fear of alienating their bosses. 

The last superintendent search, the one the led to the Becoats’ hire, was a closed search conducted by the N.C. School Board Association.

“They strongly recommend maintaining strict confidentiality throughout the process,” Carter said.

The school board chose the association from among four firms seeking the search contract at prices that ranged from $8,500 to $31,000 plus expenses.
The board went with the association’s less expensive fee of $8,500.
The association has conducted more than 80 searches in the state -- attracting in-state and national candidates -- over the past 10 years, helping boards draft vacancy announcements and ads and conducting community surveys.
It also arranges interviews, assists with drafting interview questions and checking references, arranging background checks and protecting candidates’ confidentiality.

Carter said the board will discuss later strategies to receive community input, including commissioning surveys and hosting focus groups to give community members and school employees chances to tell the board the traits and skills they want the next superintendent to have.

She said that input will factor into board decisions about whether to open or close the process and which board will eventually do the hiring.

But Davis said he doesn’t believe the use of focus groups and surveys is an effective way to search for a new superintendent.

He said selecting a superintendent is ultimately a board decision.     

“I really have difficulties with all these focus groups and all these discussions about what we want to see, because it always boils down to these ideologies that very seldom get selected,” Davis said.