The Fayette County Public Schools board voted Saturday to partner with McNamara Search Associates of Lexington to vet 30 superintendent candidates.
Last Sunday, school board members voted to terminate their contract with the Illinois-based company PROACT Search after concerns were raised about PROACT's CEO. About 30 candidates had applied to PROACT before the board decided to terminate that contract.
Lynda McNamara, president of McNamara Search Associates in Lexington, in a speaker phone interview with board members, said she would research the backgrounds of those candidates.
"I dig until I'm 100 percent satisfied that I would personally hire this person," she told board members.
The school board hopes by July to find a replacement for Tom Shelton, who resigned in December. Marlene Helm is serving in the interim.
Board members are concerned that if they don't hire a new superintendent before fall 2015, the search could be delayed another school year because superintendents don't usually leave their current jobs in the middle of a school year.
The board has not yet negotiated an exact amount for the McNamara contract. Board chairman John Price said the amount would be less than $20,000. After three hours of deliberation Saturday, board members authorized attorney Robert L. Chenoweth to negotiate the terms of an agreement.
The school board is under a $22,000 contract to PROACT Search until May 18. Last week, district officials said about $9,000 of the contract had been paid.
In a letter to the board, McNamara said she had conducted national and international searches and locally had been involved in the search for the president of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce and the Chief Operating Officer of the United Way of the Bluegrass, the President and CEO of the Kentucky Association of Realtors and the President and CEO of the Lexington Medical Society.
The other four search firms under consideration included Iowa-based Ray and Associates, Connecticut-based Avon Educational Search Consultants, Mississippi-based Logan Development Group and Chicago-based School Exec Connect.
Price said board members thought that McNamara would be able to "provide the most timely service" and that she was connected to the community.
Although the board gave unanimous approval to the McNamara partnership, board member Doug Barnett expressed concerns that McNamara did not have more experience with school superintendent searches.
Price said the board already has the superintendent candidates in hand and just needs help with background searches.
"We specialize in the process of search," McNamara told the Herald-Leader. She said she regularly conducts searches in fields where she has not done work before.
Price said based on the board members' interview with McNamara, he thought she would do a thorough job of vetting candidates. McNamara said she would work with the district's superintendent screening committee of school officials and community members that will give a recommendation to the board.
School board member Daryl Love told McNamara that it was important that she understood the different views of people from all over the district.
"I have a reputation for being transparent and credible, very open minded, and very much aware of our diverse community," McNamara said.
Price has said board members had concerns about allegations against PROACT's CEO Gary Solomon that came to light in an article in the Chicago Sun-Times. The article said that about 15 years ago, Solomon was accused of making racial slurs and sending inappropriate emails to a female student in an Illinois school district where he taught.
Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for PROACT, told the Herald-Leader on Monday that "no law enforcement authority of any kind ever substantiated any misconduct.
"Mr. Solomon apologizes and deeply regrets his statements of many years ago and stands by the outstanding work that PROACT has provided to this Board of Education and others," Culloton said.
The Sun-Times also previously reported that Solomon's principal-training company is under federal criminal scrutiny for a deal with Chicago Public Schools. PROACT Search had recently applied to help find Kentucky's next education commissioner, but the Kentucky Board of Education did not select the firm last week.
The Fayette school board expects to get information on the candidates that applied through PROACT no later than May 18.
Price said after determining if they have a quality candidate pool, board members would decide whether they want to advertise for more applicants.
Board members expressed some hesitation about launching a new search for applicants given the timeline. Love said he thought that McNamara was aware of the timeline, but would not sacrifice the integrity of the search process.
Meanwhile, school board members postponed discussing the redistricting committee's proposal to redraw attendance zones in Fayette County, although the topic had been on Saturday's meeting agenda.