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Exclusive: LAUSD plans to use same search firm to find a new superintendent — and it gets a break on the cost

Mike Szymanski | February 1, 2018

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The LA Unified school board is set to confirm the same search firm that helped them pick Michelle King as superintendent in 2016, which will save the district at least $160,000.

In the contract signed last time with Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of Rosemont, Ill., there was a two-year window clause that says, “If the Superintendent departs from the position during the first year under any circumstances or within (2) years if the majority of the Board is still in place, HYA will conduct a new search for the Board at no additional cost barring expenses.”

King announced her departure on Jan. 5, which is six days from her two-year anniversary start date of Jan. 11. King is battling cancer and plans to officially retire June 30; Vivian Ekchian was approved as interim superintendent. Five of the board members are the same as during the last search. Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez joined the board last summer.

“It was super close timing,” said board President Mónica García after the closed session that was held Tuesday afternoon to discuss the superintendent search. “The board had a productive conversation and we are advancing work on the superintendent search and we are expecting our attorney David Holmquist to bring us an amendment to the HYA contract to approve at the next meeting.”

García added, “And it will save the district money.”

• Read more: LAUSD board seeks ‘disruption’ from next superintendent

The last search stretched a few weeks longer than planned, and HYA could have charged $1,000 a day for the extra time, but it didn’t ask for any more than their initial $160,000 fee. The district ended up spending $90,000 more, including dinners and travel to interview candidates.

Holmquist said that the board still needs to decide how broad the recruitment effort will be and perhaps put a cap on the extra costs. “HYA has agreed to honor the provision in their earlier agreement to perform a subsequent recruitment at no charge — save certain costs,” he said. “We are finalizing a new contract to reflect this commitment while the board considers the scope of the recruitment effort.”

Before the afternoon closed session on Tuesday, members of the HYA team were spotted waiting to meet with the board. At the moment, HYA has 20 ongoing superintendent searches, but only five are districts with more than 10,000 students — the largest is Linn Benton Lincoln Education Service District in Albany, Oregon, with 35,000 students.

• Read more from The 74: With Churn at the Nation’s 3 Largest School Districts, Experts Agree: A Good Superintendent Is Hard to Find

García didn’t see the multiple other searches as a problem for HYA and said, “They’re busy for a reason. They did good work for us before.”

The firm has placed 45 superintendents in the nation’s 100 largest school districts, and HYA President Hank Gmitro said previously that about 60 percent of the searches in larger school districts end up picking someone from outside the district. But he pointed out that if a district knows who they’re going to pick internally, they generally don’t go through a formal search process, which is what happened the last two times before King.

One of the big questions before the board is whether the district will again seek widespread input from students, staff, and the community with surveys and forums. Turnout was considered disappointing after only 900 people showed up, a fraction of the estimated 1.4 million employees, students, and parents in the district.

Although HYA has conducted other searches where candidates were known to the public, they strongly encouraged LA Unified last time to keep all the candidates secret to ensure that the best candidates could apply without jeopardizing their present positions. HYA and board members said that speculation about who was applying for the position last time was widely inaccurate and not helpful to the search.

Although the firm is based in Illinois, the LA search team included former San Diego Superintendent Rudy Castruita, former Anaheim Superintendent Joseph M. Farley, and former Montebello Superintendent Darline Robles, whom some of the board members knew and had worked with previously.

The board is expected to formally vote on the contract at the next school board meeting on Feb. 13.

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