Wake schools begin looking at headhunter firms

Posted June 1, 2010 11:09 a.m. EDT
Updated June 1, 2010 12:44 p.m. EDT

Wake County Public School System

— Wake County school officials Tuesday began sorting out whom they will hire to conduct their search for a new superintendent for the 140,000-student district.

The North Carolina School Boards Association was first on a list of four proposals to look inside the system, as required by district policy, then possibly outside, to find a replacement for Del Burns.

Burns told the board early this year that he would resign effective June 30 because he could "not in good conscience" go along with a decision by the board majority to drop a policy of trying to balance economic diversity in all the district's schools partly through the assignment process.

The board put Burns on administrative leave shortly after and named Donna Hargens, one of Burns' assistants, as interim superintendent. It's not know if Hargens will seek the job permanently.

The board named a Search Committee led by member Debra Goldman to handle the process.

Association executive director Ed Dunlop told the board it would have no shortage of candidates because he has been receiving at least two phone calls a week from people wanting to know when the search will begin.

The committee had narrowed its list to four firms, but Goldman told the group Tuesday that one firm had pulled out because of other commitments it had made since first submitting, and a firm that had proposed charging $110,000 for the search and had been on the list of rejected proposals had dropped its price to $82,500.

DHR Consulting, whose original price matched the new one from Heidricks & Struggles, withdrew. The committee voted 2-1 to put Heidricks & Struggles back into the mix.

The school boards association led the search process that resulted in Burns' promotion to superintendent. With a search service it began about 10 years ago, Director of Policy Allison Shafer said, the association has worked with 12 of the largest 20 school systems in the state.

Durham's recent decision to hire Eric Becoats as superintendent came after an association-run search, she said.

Shafer stressed that the association helps find candidates but does make a single recommendation.

 "The public elected you" to make the decision, Shafer told Goldman's panel and other board members who attended.

Shafer also said that searching for a superintendent and agreeing on someone to hire "could be a very positive and healing process" for the board, which has had many 5-4 splits over the policy changes, which also have generated heated public comment at board meetings.