School Board says search firm it hired is a $50K flop

After hiring a Chicago-based search firm in August for $50,000 to help find a new school district superintendent, the Indian River County School Board has decided that the firm is a flop and not up to the task.

Rather than allow the firm to lead the final stages of the superintendent selection process, the board has decided to do its own vetting of the 36 applicants for the position.

Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates’ “presentations to the board have been sloppy and disorganized,” Board Chairman Laura Zorc said. “We haven’t seen the professionalism that we had hoped for.

“Mr. [Bill] Adams, who has been leading our search, has been very condescending at times. When a board member says something that he doesn’t agree with, he rolls his eyes and tries to dismiss their point.”

The Board voted 4-1 to hire HYA in August because of the firm’s experience in leading national job searches. Board member Jacquelyn Rosario voted against hiring the firm because she was concerned about documented cases in which it badly botched other districts’ superintendent searches.

Newspapers around the country have published stories noting that HYA recommended candidates to other school districts who had been accused of sexual harassment, bid fixing, lavish spending and lying about their qualifications.

“There are numerous incidents where HYA did not properly investigate candidates,” School Board member Jacqueline Rosario said in August. “I think the board should take its time and investigate some of these allegations before voting to hire HYA.

“These problems include incidents of nepotism, the firing of one administrator after nude photos were found on a laptop, and a company president who was fired from his previous position for sexual misconduct.”

Interim Superintendent Susan Moxley informed the board of more than 10 newspaper articles citing problems other districts have had with candidates and employees recommended by HYA, including numerous problems during the past three years.

Despite Moxley’s warning and Rosario’s vigorous opposition, School Board Chairman Laura Zorc, Vice-Chairman Tiffany Justice, and board members Teri Barenborg and Mara Schiff downplayed the controversies and voted to hire HYA.

Since it was hired, the firm’s relationship with the School Board has been tense much of the time, with the board publicly questioning or overruling several of HYA’s recommendations.

The board balked first at Adams’ recommendation to advertise an $185,000 annual salary for the superintendent position, saying the number was too high. The board eventually agreed to advertise a salary of “up to $178,000.”

Board members also vetoed Adam’s’ suggestion that the School Board use a private Internet portal to communicate with him – an apparent attempt to skirt Florida’s Sunshine Laws, which require that the search be conducted in public. Instead, the board insisted that the portal be open to the public.

More recently, the board rejected Adams’ suggestion that HYA pick 5 to 10 semifinalists for the board to consider for the superintendent job. Instead, the board demanded all 36 candidate applications and decided to select its own list of semifinalists.

The board was scheduled to meet for eight hours Wednesday, Nov. 6, to discuss semifinalist picks. Interviews for the finalists are tentatively scheduled to begin Nov. 14, with the board hoping to have a new superintendent onboard by Jan. 1.

Board member Mara Schiff emphasized it’s important for the board to view each candidate’s application and resume, and make the decision about semifinalists itself, but the board will consider HYA’s recommendations when making that decision, Schiff and other board members said.

“This is going to be the most significant decision we make during our time on the board,” Schiff said of picking a new superintendent.

Interim Superintendent Moxley and School Attorney Suzanne D’Agresta recently notified Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates that the board was dissatisfied with its performance.

When the firm’s past problems came to light in August, Adams, HYA’s vice-president, issued a written statement claiming the company had improved its vetting efforts.

“With regard to the negative articles reflecting a significantly small number of searches over the last 35 years, we offer kudos to the board member who did her due diligence,” Adams wrote in an email to the School Board. “As indicated during our presentation, HYA conducted over 1,400 successful educational leadership searches over the last 35 years. A few of these searches have resulted in controversy.”

Adams did not respond to phone and email inquiries seeking comment for this story.

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