With outgoing Superintendent Terry Grier set to retire in less than two weeks, Houston ISD’s Board of Trustees has led an insufficient superintendent search process, ultimately leading to the hiring of a search firm with multiple complaints and a history of conflicts of interest.

In December, prior to hiring the first education executive search firm Ray and Associates, HISD Trustee Jolanda Jones urged the board to postpone the vote until the newly elected trustees could be sworn in. Ignoring her concerns, the board voted 7-1 to hire the Iowa-based firm. Later that evening, after receiving new information, the board reconsidered the vote, but the firm was once again approved — this time with a 5-4 vote.

The first meeting with Ray and Associates was held on February 4th. After concerns of a limited timeline to thoroughly seek community input, the board decided to fire the firm.

In a closed-door Special Meeting on February 17th, the board voted to fire Ray and Associates and contract with a new national executive search firm – Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates (HYA).

One quick search of HYA turns up a host of complaints from school districts and taxpayers across the country who were not only dissatisfied with the services of the firm, but also pointed to instances of direct conflicts of interest.

The school board of Scottsdale, Arizona contracted HYA in 2009 to lead their search for a new superintendent. After a nationwide search of the top candidates for the job, the firm presented three candidates: the CEO of HYA, a former HYA consultant, and a third unrelated candidate.

Capistrano Unified Board of Trustees in California hired the firm in 2014 to lead their search for a new superintendent. It was later revealed that the outgoing Superintendent had taken a part-time job with the firm just five months before they were contracted with the district.

More recently, Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) hired the firm to lead their search. District residents, including two school directors, complained that representatives from the firm weren’t concerned with the qualities that residents wanted in a new superintendent. A parent of an MPS student (who also maintained an education blog), said the firm didn’t pay attention during community meetings, never looked up from their computers, and directly contradicted some of the things people were saying. The blatant disinterest led parents to create a petition to restart the search process with a new firm and demand a refund from HYA. Though a refund didn’t come, they were successful in compelling the board to end the contract with HYA.

These are only a few of the documented problems with the firm recently entrusted with the responsibility of locating HISD’s next Superintendent.

With all of the issues that HISD is dealing with — a $107 million deficit, a bond shortfall audit, and whistleblowing from ignored employees — the last thing the district should be doing is wasting tax dollars on a firm with such a poor track record. District taxpayers should be asking some tough questions of their trustees for contracting with a firm with such well-known conflicts.

Charles Blain

Charles Blain is the president of Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute. A native of New Jersey, he is based in Houston and writes on municipal finance and other urban issues.


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