Search Firm Blues: Minneapolis superintendent quest in limbo

December 28, 2015

When Minneapolis superintendent Bernadeia Johnson announced last year that she was resigning from her position (for ever-popular “family” reasons), the district’s school board tried to do the right thing.

Instead of simply handing the job over to interim superintendent Michael Goar, they hired a search firm. They did so because Minneapolis Public Schools’s HR department said they’d have a tough time handling the search themselves, as it would coincide with the annual spring hiring season for teaching staff.

That seemed reasonable. Hiring district teachers should be a priority, since they are the ones who will be held most accountable for getting all Minneapolis kids “college and career ready.”

And, outsourcing the hiring of administrators is just what people do nowadays. Look at the University of Minnesota. In 2012, the U spent over $125,000 (not that anyone is counting) on the Parker Executive Search firm, which brought recently departed athletic director Norwood Teague to Minnesota.

Once here, Teague promptly engaged in the kind of sexual harassment shenanigans that the Parker search firm seemingly could have warned the U about, according to an August, 2015 Twin Cities Business Journal article:

At the time Teague was hired, he was facing a gender-discrimination complaint from the women’s basketball coach at Virginia Commonwealth University. Minnesota spokesman Evan Lapiska said the university was not aware of the complaint.

HYA rep Ted Blaesing led MPS’s search

We are now in a similar position with the Minneapolis superintendent search. The Minneapolis school board hired the nationally known search firm Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates (HYA) to scour the country’s superintendent talent pipeline for a worthy, wart-free candidate, and it paid them at least $85, 000 to do it. 

And what has this yielded so far? A superintendent candidate–Dr. Sergio Paez–who seems not to have been as thoroughly vetted as HYA promised he was. Paez somehow rose above interim superintendent Goar–whose heavy hitter supporters lobbied hard on his behalf–to become the board’s choice, only to be quickly tainted by a lingering investigation from his previous employer, the Holyoke, MA school district.

Let’s be clear: Paez may have done nothing wrong while superintendent, briefly, of the Holyoke schools. The abuse allegations under investigation in Holyoke have not been directly connected to Paez, who has continued to defend his record in Massachusetts. 

But still. Paez apparently never told board members about the alleged abuse that happened at a Holyoke school while he was there. And HYA never told anyone either. Leaving the reported abuse of special ed students as a last-minute “surprise” for board members to discover seems negligent at best, and deeply incompetent no matter what.

So, now what? Will HYA be compelled to refund any of the $85, 000 in public funds they have received for their seemingly shoddy search?

Like Parker, the search firm that brought Teague to the U of M, HYA has its own questionable track record. Will they be held accountable, like so many public school teachers, for their perceived failures? At least, when we hear again and again that public schools are broke, and universities must raise their tuition fees to survive, we know where some of that money is going.

What is next for Minneapolis? It is possible, but perhaps unlikely, that Paez will be strong enough, as a candidate, to rise above the murky waters he now finds himself in. Will it be back to the drawing board for the superintendent search, or will a strong internal candidate rise to the surface, now that Goar is out of the way?

Whatevs. HYA is on to their next gig, finding a new superintendent for the LA public schools. Cha-ching!

I am no search firm, but I would be grateful for your financial support. Please consider making a donation to keep this blog rolling! Much appreciated.

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