School board discusses bringing on search aid at cost to taxpayers
Elected officials with the Webster Parish School Board could spend nearly $16,000 of taxpayer money to pay for services that would take the drudgery out of work they were elected to do, as established by their handbook.
"We take the drudgery out of the work," said McPherson & Jacobson Consultant Loe Dunn. "We do everything for you. Not only that, but you are busy, you have lives and you don't have the time to allocate to do this."
Consultants from the McPherson & Jacobson company met with the board last night to outline services available to the board in the search for the soon-to-be-vacant superintendent position.
If the board decides to use the recruitment company, McPherson & Jacobson, a new superintendent could be in place by mid-august.
The position became available after Superintendent W.W. "Butch" Williams announced his retirement, effective at the end of this school year.
McPherson & Jacobson has been in operation since 1991 and has conducted more than 400 searches for superintendents. McPherson & Jacobson has 75 consultants. Dunn and consultant, Gerald Keller, both live and work in the Louisiana area and have school board and various school system work histories.
Dunn said the process of selecting a superintendent is very open and transparent.
"It helps remove politics from the search," she said. "We work for the board and guarantee our results."
The consultants would meet approximately four times with the board.
Goals of the meetings would include identifying the board's ideal characteristics of the new superintendent, establishing a detailed time line for the procedures, and determining the course for advertising.
The consultants would meet with "stakeholder groups," which are groups identified by the board that have input in the selection of the new superintendent. Groups may include administrators, support personal, student councils, teachers, central office staff and community groups and clubs.
Candidates for the position could be sought on a local, regional and national level. Applicants would be screened and a final set of applicants meeting the criteria would have thorough background checks performed. Candidates still remaining would be presented before the entire board for review.
Dunn and Keller would then coordinate interview and visitation procedures and assist with the interview process.
"We do select final candidates, usually three or four," Dunn said. "However, the board may add to that or disregard a candidate we suggest. We work for you (the board)."
A base fee of $9,000 is charged for the services, plus expenses of the consultants, such as gas, possible hotel and other travel-related costs.
The board would also be responsible for paying for travel expenses for final applicants during the interview process.
"The average expenses are typically near $4,000 to $6,000 total," said Dunn.
Board members, having different opinions on whether to utilize the consultant's services, spoke to each other regarding their position and the community members they represent.
Frankie Mitchell said she has received calls regarding the search for superintendent.
"They say we have known who the new superintendent is going to be," she said. "Many people in the community say they are tired of this.
"I think what has hurt Webster Parish through the years is we have passed it (the superintendent position) down from small community to small community," Mitchell continued. "That has really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way."
Board president Charles Strong said that no matter which process is selected, it should be fair and inclusive, with a goal in mind of selecting the best superintendent for the school system.
Linda Kinsey questioned if the community had ever been involved in the process of selecting a new superintendent.
Jerry Lott said he feels the community has a vested interest in the process.
"They elected you, and when you vote, you are representing those people," he said. "That is why we were elected – to represent a group of people.
"So they – very much so – have a hand in this selection, because they have you," Lott continued. "You should vote the way your community wants you to."
Lott said that members of the community he represents have asked, "Why is the school board turning over all the decisions that need to be made to outside consultants? What are you (board members) up there for? Didn't we elect you to represent us and to do these things?"
Kinsey said she doesn't feel the democratic process works to the extent of the method the consultants are suggesting.
"Not to the extent that the stakeholders in the community would be consulted," she said.
Mitchell said problems among the board members are a reason to use services offered by McPherson & Jacobson.
"When you start conniving and stop speaking, and all this kind of crap, that's when I think it's time for us to go beyond this and actually let someone come in and do like it should be," Mitchell said.
WPSB Business and Finance Director Crevonne Odom asked the board members to remember the financial situation as they make decisions.
"From the financial standpoint, please, whatever decisions you decide to make, be mindful of our financial situation," she said. "They mentioned negotiating the superintendent salary, we are basically where we do not have negotiating powers.
"Our salary schedule is (fixed)," Odom continued. "Many outside superintendents want housing allowances and all of the other things that we cannot afford to give."
Holloway said the WPSB is more diverse, in regard to minorities, than the consulting firm and feels finding a new superintendent is a responsibility of the board.
"We are elected to do this," Holloway said. "Each of us was voted to represent our community. Your community may think the consultants are a great idea. But the majority of people in my community do not want this."
The board collectively decided to allow the search committee to meet Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to make a final recommendation to present to the board.