The desire to conduct a full-scale national search is apparently what tipped the balance Tuesday in favor of the out-of-state firm that was chosen by the Wake County school board to conduct the superintendent search.
As noted in today's article, school board chairman Keith Sutton said he felt that McPherson & Jacobson could potentially do a better job of recruiting nationally than the N.C. School Boards Association. Sutton also liked how McPherson & Jacobson would solicit community input.
Sutton's concerns blocked his fellow Democrats from picking the School Boards Association, resulting in the deal that led to McPherson being hired after the recess.
Sutton said that, based on his reading of the proposals, it looked like McPherson had a broader national reach than the School Boards Association.
It was a point echoed by the Republican board members.
"For our large system, I think a national focus and maybe at least looking everywhere would be a good thing for us,” said board member Deborah Prickett.
Democratic board members said they liked the proposals from both firms but gravitated toward the School Boards Association because of the lower cost.
Democratic board members also defended NCSBA's ability to do national searches.
"Just because they are a North Carolina organization and only work for North Carolina schools, I think it’s very important to know that their commitment to us is to do a national search, bring in national candidates," said board member Jim Martin. "From their letters of reference they have done that for other searches and I think it is our expectation that they would do the same should we go with them.
I just want to make it clear that going with the North Carolina School Boards Association is not saying we’re only looking internal. It is our expectation, as they have cited as their expectation, to do an exhaustive national search."
The issue was also debated during the work session.
During the work session, board member Susan Evans had pointed to how NCSBA said in its proposal how so many of its people live in Wake and have a vested interest in getting a good superintendent hired.
Board member John Tedesco said that NCSBA did a lot of good things but he didn't think superintendent searches were their best thing. He said board members in other districts who used them told him they found the candidates who applied to be "lacking."
"I don’t think they [NCSBA] have the broad enough network for a district of our scope and size that we are today to be able to attract some of the top national candidates," Tedesco said. "I think they’ll do well at putting their feelers out across North Carolina. But I think this is a different district now.
This is a national leading district and I think we need to be able to have a firm that can attract some of the top national candidates. I know they show some examples of where they’ve done that. They have some outside affiliate networks where they broker to do that.
But like you said, this is their backyard. This is their bailiwick. This is what they know. They’re going to default to some extent to their comfort zone with the caliber of candidates that they’re used to.”
Evans disagreed that there would be a different quality of candidates from NCSBA than McPherson.
"People who are looking for serious superintendent jobs or the people who are prospecting, they are going to be looking and regardless of which group we use to round up the applications and bring them to us, I think the pool of applications will be similar nonetheless," Evans said.
Maybe I’m naïve about that, but I think we’re a large school system that’s known throughout the country. I would think we would expect to get similar applications regardless of who’s coordinating getting them to us and so that’s something I think we should take into consideration.”
Tedesco said he disagreed. He said some firms can do a better job than others of recruiting people who aren't even looking for positions.
“Different caliber of firms are able to attract different candidates," Tedesco said. "That’s why there are different caliber firms.”
Board member Kevin Hill, the only one who ultimately voted against McPherson, pointed to the letters in the NCSBA packet from five school boards who felt they got high caliber candidates with a broad reach.
Hill also noted that three of the last five state superintendents of the year were placed by NCSBA.