Board fires search firm, hires new group to aid in search for superintendent

Attorney for the Muscogee County School Board District Jorge Vega and interim Superindenent John Phillips walk into executive session Monday afternoon during a school board meeting,
Attorney for the Muscogee County School Board District Jorge Vega and interim Superindenent John Phillips walk into executive session Monday afternoon during a school board meeting, jpaull@ledger-enquirer.com

Unsatisfied and frustrated with the protracted search for a superintendent, the Muscogee County School Board fired search firm McPherson & Jacobson LLC of Omaha, Neb., and hired a new one Monday.

Well, not exactly new.

Brock, Clay, Calhoun & Rogers LLC is new to this search, but it sure is a familiar name in the Muscogee County School District. The firm, with offices in Marietta, Ga., and Atlanta, helped the board hire its past two superintendents: Susan Andrews in December 2008 and John Phillips Jr., in January 2003. Phillips has been the interim superintendent since Andrews left June 30.

After a 20-minute closed session, the board unanimously voted on a new professional services contract so Brock and Clay can pick up the superintendent search. Board members didn't discuss the move in public at the board table.

Board chairwoman Cathy Williams said the board is "very confident" Brock and Clay will enable it to "hire absolutely the best person to serve Muscogee County."

Brock and Clay weren't available to conduct MCSD's search when the board hired McPherson & Jacobson in July, Williams said.

Andrews notified the board in March that she planned to retire. The board expected to hire a new superintendent by the end of 2012. McPherson & Jacobson, however, failed to bring the board any candidate among the 22 applicants that matched its criteria. The major shortfall was that no candidate had at least five years of experience as a superintendent in a district of similar size. Williams has said Muscogee's 32,000-student system is considered a large school district, in the nation's top 10 percent by size.

So the board interviewed four semifinalists Dec. 5 in closed session even though it wasn't happy with their qualifications. After the interviews, the board wasn't impressed enough with any of the semifinalists. Then the board went a month without convening since its regular meeting Dec. 10, and the search stalled until it was restarted Monday.

But it's not starting over completely, Williams contends.

"We're moving forward with Brock and Clay and using the information we have up until today," she said.

That means the community forums McPherson & Jacobson conducted during the summer still will help the board define the type of superintendent it wants to hire.

Switching search firms isn't a step backward, insists District 1 representative Pat Hugley Green. Instead, using an executive recruiter familiar with MCSD pushes the board closer to its goal, she said.

"We are doing our due diligence to fill the top spot," Green said.

MCSD already has paid McPherson & Jacobson $13,515. Board documents show that money was paid through two invoices: $12,950 Oct. 22 for half of the contracted fee; $565 for advertising expenses. The other half of the $25,900 fee was supposed to be due upon the completion of the search. But now that is moot.

The contract with Brock and Clay wasn't available Monday. It is based on an hourly rate, not to exceed a total of $25,000, Williams said.

Phillips started working as the interim superintendent in July for $17,206 per month. Under the terms of his state retirement plan, he had to cut his schedule to 20 hours per week after three months and reduce the pay to 49 percent of his full-time compensation, which amounts to $8,431 per month.

No search timeline from Brock and Clay was presented. The firm immediately will begin recruiting candidates, Williams said, and she thinks it is reasonable to expect the board to hire a new superintendent by the start of next school year.