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Committee recommends hiring Heidrick & Struggles for superintendent search

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The Wake County school board's superintendent search committee has backed hiring Chicago-based Heidrick & Struggles to help conduct the search for a new search.

Heidrick & Struggles was backed Monday night over three cheaper firms. Heidrick is offering to do the search for $82,500 plus expenses while the N.C. School Boards Association was the cheapest at $15,000 plus expenses.

Debra Goldman, chairwoman of the board's superintendent search committee, said they were impressed by Heidrick & Struggles' expertise. Heidrick has been involved in superintendent searches such as Houston and Philadelphia.

Goldman said Heidrick will also conduct the next search for free if the new superintendent doesn't work out within the first year.

Goldman also said they felt that the School Boards Association has a political agenda and is seen as partisan. She said they wanted to bring in a firm that would be seen to be impartial.

Heidrick & Struggles has been accused of steering districts toward candidates who back charter schools and subcontracting to private agencies.

Goldman, Chris Malone and Deborah Prickett voted for Heidrich & Struggles. Carolyn Morrison, citing the higher cost, voted no.

The full board will vote on hiring the firm next Tuesday.

The board has been looking for a new superintendent since Del Burns announced in February he would resign effective June 30. Following negative public comments about the new board majority, Burns was placed on paid adminstrative leave on March 9.

Donna Hargens, the district's chief academic officer, has been serving as interim superintendent.


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Keung wrote: Following

Keung wrote: Following negative public comments about the new board majority

He commented on the policies they were attempting to put in place, not "them" - a fairly important distinction considering the consequences he faced. And the fact that he was extremely careful not to make "negative public comments about the new board majority" - but then you state that he did just that.


I hope the new school boards lets us know what we get for an extra $62,500.

Families live on less than $62,500 per year.

I can answer that. We get

I can answer that. We get the highest-quality candidates from a broad and inclusive pool of potential candidates.

More Money

More Money is not always better service. Sometimes it is just more money.

I hope this does not end up like the $50,000 we spent on the Farr report which is going to save us nothing. 



But, over time, a company cannot continue to charge more without providing additional value. You really should be asking why the NCSBA is so cheap -- I suspect it's because their candidate pool is a lot shallower.

What evidence do you have

What evidence do you have that their candidate pool is shallower? 


First of all, it appears (from their website) that the NCSBA doesn't independently reach out to potential candidates -- they advertise and wait for applicants.  Executive search firms tend to establish relationships with candidates, who they then call when positions open up.  Further, they actively look for candidates who they think might be good fits, even if those candidates aren't currently looking.

Secondly, they're not a national organization.  If you're an
aspiring school superintendent in, say, Maine, you're unlikely to get in
touch with the NCSBA. 

Thirdly, it appears that they don't have any special expertise in this area.


True, you do not always get

True, you do not always get better service by paying more, but very often you do. My view is the costs are in-line with what it takes to hire a top-quality CEO and that is what WCPSS needs and will be looking for. The BoE members interviewed the firms competing for this work and have more information and insight than you or I have, so I trust they will make a good decision.

Heidrick & Struggles: some facts

Some facts about this firm:

Heidrick & Struggles has a history of directing districts to candidates advocating charter schools and subcontracting to private agencies, specifically in Philadelphia and Buffalo. Heidrick & Struggles also has close ties to the charter-school movement and to Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mayoral control approach in New York City.

Richard Greene, a managing partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ Chicago headquarters, was recently the chief operating officer for the KIPP national foundation. In Houston, KIPP and its junior partner, YES PREP, hope to use private money to create a separate school district of 21,000 students cut from the heart of the Houston School District .

In Houston, Heidrick & Struggles decided to issue the name of only one finalist. I wonder what choices they'll give us? Debra Goldman calls this firm the least biased firm?!! LOL!


I can read the article Keung pointed to also.  But, the author of that article is clearly a biased loon.  As to her "facts"

(1)  What "history"?  Please elaborate, or are you only quoting the loon?

(2)  What's wring with subcontracting?  That's a common practice.

(3)  What are the close ties with the charter-school movement?

(4)  What's wrong with Bloomberg's approach to NYC schools?  I don't recall their being becons of hope in past years.

(5)  Were you aware that Richard Greene does "Leadership Consulting" and not searches?

(6) Were you aware that Richard Greene is one of a few hundred of their consultants?

(7) What exactly is wrong with "KIPP and its junior partne, YES PREP, [hoping] to use private [!] money to create a separate school district of 21,000 students"?

(8) Were you aware that the decision in Houston to only release the name of a single finalist was made by the School board?  

Dig a little deeper.


CaryCrurmudgeon, Its great how you justify the BOE's fiscal irresponsibility.

Definitely looks like the committee got sucked into the Heidrick & Struggles song and dance a bit to much. Here's the problem. The BOE said they were going to budget $100,000 for the search and that they full anticipated being able to returning unused funds back to the general fund. Calculating the total bill. Start with $82,500 add T&E @ a standard 17.5% rate and the total bill for the search cost will be $97,000. A whopping $3000 is to be returned to the general fund. Nice! Amazing how this firm can provide this service for only just slightly under the budgeted amount.....ha ha! To stay within the T&E amount...I would definately recomend the Hampton Inn vs. Umstead.

The board budgeted $125,000

The board budgeted $125,000 for the search.

Please ... let's not find

Please ... let's not find out that this company has some association with Goldman, her husband, the Republican Party, Farr, or Art Pope ...


It's a $400M publicly traded company that does executive search -- finding superintendants is a small part of what it does.   Based on my (brief) internet research, the complaints about being too close to the charter school movement are because one of its partners was involved with KIPP and because they placed a couple of superintendants who were friendly to charter schools.  That just sounds like sour grapes to me.


If the shoe were on the

If the shoe were on the other foot, I'm sure most forced-busing supporters would claim that you couldn't put a price on getting in the "right" superintendent to ensure Wake schools continued to be "nationally recognized."  These folks were all silent when Rosa and the Rosettes were taking junkets around the country and wasting money, but now they are suddenly scrutinizing every dime.  I think the scrutiny is fine, and this stands up as a good decision.

school majority

CaryCumudgeon, have you ever disagreed with any decision the new majority has ever made? 

Hiring this biased firm is all about killing the public school system and turning the whole thing over to charter schools and private money-making schools. Another move from the right to privatize everything.

Yes, I thought hiring Thomas

Yes, I thought hiring Thomas Farr was a bad decision, and said so.  I did not support their cutting funding for Project Enlightenment.  And I think the suggestion on the table to consider making magnet schools YR is not a good direction to take.  And I think they should have moved David Holzcom out months ago.  That enough for you?  I still strongly support the direction of the new board, but I'm not going to blindly support every step they take.

I don't think this decision represents a direction to "make the whole thing charter schools and private money-making schools."  If it were, then someone needs to educate the board and let them know that the state has charters capped, and a new superintendent won't change that.  FWIW, I do think the cap should be lifted.  As to the board's evil desire to move 140,000 students to private schools, I think that notion is absurd.  These board members would be dead before enough private schools could be built to accomodate 140,000 students.  And I don't think private schools are the answer, at least not for everyone.  We tried it with one of our children and it didn't work (he's now back in WCPSS after one year of private).

Now, I have had a difficult time finding any "new board haters" who think we should be having a search at all -- the consensus from that side seems to be that the job should be given to Hargens.   I see a lot of group-think from the "old policy" supporters, with almost no acknowledgement that this new board has done anything right.

To put this in perspective, Del Burns will be collecting $150K/year pension for the rest of his life.

Pretty vocal

You must have missed my posts then.  Count me as someone who strongly dislikes the new majority but thinks having a new superintendent from outside could benefit the system, especially if someone neutral on politics but a great administrator could be found.   Politics is just confounding and further masking some internal strife issues within WCPSS that need fixing regardless of who is on the BoE.


Please point me to evidence that the firm is biased.  About the only thing we see is an article by some freelancer at Examiner.com who has written a bunch of anti-charter stories.  That's hardly an unbiased source.

I'll let CC speak for himself, but if you're not aware of the time he's disagreed, you haven't been paying much attention.  

I don't think you have to be

I don't think you have to be in favor of "forced busing" to think that having a diversity goal as part of the assignment policy is a good idea.

For this particular search, I think they should just give the job to Hargens.  She and the staff have already started the journey toward community-based assignments, so obviously she's OK with that aspect of the job.  

The willingness to be a part of that change (or lack thereof) was the basis of the rift between Burns and the new members.  That rift doesn't seem to exist with Hargens.

I don't know much about the junkets (before my time), but they would either stand or fall on their own merits.  I don't play the "well, they spent this so we can, too" game.

Dan, You have many good


You have many good points, but we'll just disagree on this one.  We are coming off of what, in the corporate world, would be considered a hostile takeover.  Dr. Hargens has done nothing wrong, and seems to be willing to work with the board.  But she is steeped in the Burns/McNeal way of doing things.  Far better to bring someone in from outside, an executive who has demonstrated they know how to run a school system without using school buses to try to fix academic achievement problems.

Board majority critics claim that the new board members do not have the experience to do the job.  If there is a void of experience to fill, I wouldn't want it filled by someone who only knows the "old" ways.

First of all, this isn't the

First of all, this isn't the corporate world.  I don't think it should be treated that way, and I hate that it has resembled that world since last December.

Unless they are going to fire the entire staff, they are going to have a lot of people who did things the "Burns/McNeal way".  If the search takes 6-9 months, the heavy lifting of the new assignment model will be done anyway.  If Hargens successfully leads the district through that process, she should be a shoo-in.

I am really not a conspiracy theorist.  But, I have to say that I am somewhat troubled that our board chose a group that wasn't the cheapest option (or even 2nd) and also has faced accusations of steering districts toward pro charter/pro increased privatization candidates.  That feeds into the Pope/Margiotta/Luddy/Thales conspiracies that are circulating. (That should get a rise out of woodstock)

I understand that we'll disagree on this, and that's fine.  Just understand one thing:  We don't have the money that it WILL take to increase assignment choice for all students and we don't have the money necessary to prop up high poverty schools. Something will have to give.


I totally agree that it has

I totally agree that it has been a hostile takeover. The new board made it that way and I really think that was a mistake. This kind of hostility does not belong in the school system at all.


Do you have any evidence that it's more than a single wacko making these accusations?

I can play that, too:  "All the cheaper search firms have a history of directing their clients toward candidates with secret communist leanings."  I can't believe that you'd support organizations that have been accused of supporting communism.


But what about Dan's point

But what about Dan's point that we just do not have the money to support the newly formed very high poverty schools. Where will that money come from Bob? I have not heard any answers to this. The plan that the new board proposes seems very expensive if we really do it right. The new board does not even argue with this assertion. But they have not  shown how they intend to pay for it. Show me the money!

I'm with you, Mudge.  I

I'm with you, Mudge.  I also think that Dan has some good points, but I'd rather that we conduct a search.  I agree that Hargens has done nothing wrong, but we are embarking on a major change here and we need to make sure that we are getting the best person.  It could end up being Hargens or it could be somebody from the outside.  But we can't afford to mess around.

Question for Keung

You mention NCSBA as considered partisan and also mention a partisan bias of Heidrich and Struggles. Did the other two options not selected also have partisan leanings one way or the other? Were any of them truly considered non-partisan?

I don't really know much

I don't really know much about the other two firms: Hazard Young Attea Associates and the Ray Consulting Group.

Taxpayer Money

An extra $67,500 - What are they thinking? Do they not know we are in a budget crisis.

Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that such a firm can offer better service than our own NC Assoc of school boards that would do the job for 82,500 less, this Board must ask itself whether any added benefit justifies the high price tag.

Paying for high-quality

Paying for high-quality expertise on the front end can save a bundle long-term.

Already Aboard

I think John Tedesco should be the new Superintendent since he is already in the system and according to Woodstock is "THE MAN" for all seasons !!!!!  Plus being paid will keep him from having to live in his car !!!!! By the way, has he started his new residence yet ?????

Is it knat season?

Is it knat season?


Is that like a gnat?

Oops. LOL. Yes is it.

Oops. LOL. Yes it is..

When you are hiring someone

When you are hiring someone to run a $1.5B business, you don't scrimp on the cost to recruit the very best.



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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.