Categorized | Education

Shelby County School Board stops superintendent recruitment efforts

David Reaves said he wasn’t surprised to learn that a search firm hired to find a new Shelby County Schools superintendent is having a hard time.
“There’s a lack of perceived stability in the district,” said Reaves, a school board member from suburban Shelby County. “From my viewpoint, I think the board saw the handwriting on the wall and decided it was time to suspend the efforts.”
The unified board voted 18-4 last Tuesday to suspend the recruitment efforts after the search firm it hired, Illinois-based PROACT, indicated it was having a hard time finding the right kind of candidates for the job. Interim superintendent Dorsey Hopson said he was fine leading the district until the district hires a permanent replacement.
Reaves, who voted in favor of a motion to suspend the recruitment efforts, said he believes the district can find a qualified candidate out of its own administrators. He said he would not be in favor of conducting another nationwide search.
“I think there was the perception that if we did not do a nationwide search, we would not have gotten the legitimacy out of a local person getting the job,” he said. “But I believe we can promote someone within the district.”
Even if that’s not the case, Reaves said he would not approve using PROACT to continue the district’s recruitment efforts. The district hired the firm for $38,000 last year to find a candidate after the former Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools combined. Since then, the firm has not provided them with a slate of candidates from which they could select. They also sent a memo to the district Tuesday afternoon indicating they might not be able to find anyone, which came just a few days prior to the deadline the board gave them for finding a list of contenders.
“I don’t think they are an effective search firm,” Reaves said. “The quality of the work that comes out of that group is subpar.”
The four dissenting votes came from board members Diane George, Stephanie Gatewood, Tomeka Hart and Patrice Robinson. Board member David Pickler is out of the country and was not at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Prior to the vote, a few of the board members asked why PROACT felt it was unable to find a list of candidates because the parameters of the search have not changed since the board approved its contract.
“That’s why you hire a search firm,” Robinson said. “Otherwise, we could do this in-house.”
Still, the issue might not be that simple. The unified board is scheduled to reduce from 23 members to seven members in September as part of an agreement reached between the two former districts and the Shelby County board of commissioners.
However, several commissioners have said they want to exercise a clause in that agreement that will allow them to increase the board to as many as 13 members. That issue is still before a federal judge and no timetable has been set for a resolution.
Also at issue is the likelihood that the 130,000-member student body will be a fraction of that size by the 2014-2015 school year.
Two new laws signed by Gov. Bill Haslam in the past week allow six suburban communities to start the process of setting up independent districts.
That’s expected to happen in all of those communities, which would leave only the City of Memphis and some unincorporated areas of Shelby County in the unified school district’s service area.
When the huge disparity between the number of students now and the number after the district shrinks, the search firm said most candidates would be concerned that those hired under one pay structure for a much larger district would be asked or required to take a significant pay cut. It also means the board members who hire that superintendent and employees he or she would manage could change between the time a job was offered and the candidate’s start date.
The board agreed to revisit the recruitment issue later this year when several of the ongoing issues regarding the size and scope of the district and board are expected to be resolved.

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