The Fayette County school board voted Sunday to terminate its contract with superintendent search firm PROACT Search Inc.
But board members want to continue the search for a permanent superintendent to lead Fayette County Public Schools.
Chairman John Price called Sunday's meeting in the wake of what he termed "very disturbing allegations involving the CEO of PROACT Search," Gary Solomon, that came to light in a Chicago Sun-Times article.
The article, posted Thursday, said that about 15 years ago, Solomon, in an Illinois school district where he taught, faced allegations of making racial slurs and sending inappropriate emails to a female student.
The newspaper previously reported that Solomon's principal-training company is under federal criminal scrutiny for a deal with Chicago Public Schools.
After the vote to terminate the contract, Price said in an interview that "with the allegations against Mr. Solomon, we felt we could not move forward in confidence with his company.
"For the good of our students, for the good of our search, we need to move forward to terminate our contract as soon as possible," Price said.
The school board is trying to find by July a replacement for Tom Shelton, who resigned in December.
Price said the board wanted to try to stick to the July time line and would look for another firm to vet the candidates who have applied and accept more applications.
He said those who have applied through PROACT would be given full consideration.
Halting the search probably would delay the hiring process by a year, Price said, but he added, "If we don't find the right candidate, we will not hire at this point and time. We have to feel confident that we've got the right person for the job."
He said board members might be able to make more decisions about the search at Monday's work session.
Acting superintendent Marlene Helm said she was willing to help the board for the short term.
Before going into closed session Sunday morning, board members talked with Solomon by speaker phone.
Solomon said there are 30 applicants for the job. He said he was willing to recuse himself from dealing with the search if the board would continue to work with his colleagues.
The board has paid about $9,000 on its $22,000 contract with PROACT Search.
A spokesman for Solomon did not immediately respond to a request for comment after the board vote Sunday. But in a statement to the Herald-Leader Friday, Solomon wrote:
"Niles Township recently released a disciplinary hearing transcript that includes a discussion of emails from the late 1990s that I allegedly authored, one or more of which, admittedly included racial slurs.
"Although these were fleeting statements in the context of a private conversation from many years ago, I make no excuse for such abhorrent, racially, and ethnically insensitive comments, regardless of my intent. Those closest to me, my life's work, and my actions know that such language is not a true reflection of my feelings, beliefs, or thoughts. I apologize for such harmful and insulting language, which I deeply regret."
Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for PROACT, said Friday that Niles Township High School released a transcript of a disciplinary hearing that took place in 1999 when Solomon was a high school dean and teacher. He was accused of sending inappropriate email to a female student, the Sun-Times reported.
"The hearing lasted numerous days over numerous months and was never completed," Culloton said.
"While he vigorously defended himself against the charges and before Mr. Solomon could present his defense, Niles Township agreed to confidentially settle the parties' employment matter, which included Niles Township paying Mr. Solomon $50,000. No law enforcement authority of any kind, including the police and (social services), then or since, ever filed charges or rendered any adverse finding against Mr. Solomon for the alleged occurrences," Culloton said.
The Sun-Times said district trustees approved paying $50,000 to Solomon and the law firm that represented him to settle the dispute with the district in February 2000. Under the terms of the deal, Solomon resigned, the newspaper said.
Fayette school board members expressed concerns Sunday about the public's faith in the superintendent search in light of the allegations against the PROACT CEO.
The district is looking for a superintendent who will close the achievement gap between minority students and others and bring equity for all students.
Fayette County Education Association president Jessica Hiler, who is on a committee that will screen candidates, and William Saunders, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said they thought the board made the best decision in ending the contract with PROACT.
"We're behind them 100 percent," said Saunders.