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Published: 4/20/2006

TPS board haggles, votes 3-2 to hire search firm

The Toledo Board of Education wrangled yesterday over a choice between two executive search firms to find a superintendent.

Board members debated for about 40 minutes before voting 3-2 to hire PROACT Search Inc. of Milwaukee. Nancy Noeske, the consultant who worked with the board in 2000 to find Eugene Sanders, operates the company.

Board President Darlene Fisher and member Robert Torres voted against hiring the firm. They favored Ray & Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Board member Steven Steel, who led a committee to narrow the number of firms, opened the discussion by recommending PROACT.

"I came away from the interviews we had last week thinking we could choose either firm and be well-served," he said.

Mr. Torres said he had concerns about PROACT and favored Ray &Associates partially because of the firm's emphasis on "nontraditional candidates" and because PROACT recommended two candidates for the TPS job in 2000 who did not eventually fill the position.

Lucian Yates, the former superintendent in Harrisburg, Pa., and Alan Brown, a former superintendent of Milwaukee, were the top two finalists - both found by Ms. Noeske in 2000. It appeared Mr. Brown was the board's first choice.

The board sent word to him that he would be assured of a job offer in Toledo if he would turn down or delay responding to a competing job offer from the Rockford, Ill., school board. However, Mr. Brown accepted the offer in Rockford.

The school board then offered the job to Mr. Yates, but balked at contract demands he made that would have cost the district more than $400,000 the first year.

Ms. Noeske asked Mr. Sanders - who at the time was a Bowling Green State University professor and unofficially head of the advisory committee to find a new superintendent - if he would consider the position.

Yesterday, Ms. Fisher also questioned Ms. Noeske's effectiveness because the board in 2000 was not able to hire one of her top candidates. "We want to hire a firm that will deliver on a promise," she said.

Ms. Fisher also wanted Ray & Associates because that firm would cost $3,500 less than PROACT's $30,000 fee. The company also predicts expenses, such as advertising and travel, to total up to $20,000.

Board member Larry Sykes, the only member who was in office when Mr. Sanders was hired to replace Merrill Grant, criticized Ms. Fisher for "dividing the board" and even offered to support hiring Ray & Associates in an attempt to reach a unanimous decision.

Mr. Sykes said it is beyond a search consultant's control what happens once finalists reach the board for consideration, and it's possible for applicants to take a job elsewhere at the last minute.

He later asked the president to support Mr. Steel's recommendation to avoid a split vote, which he said "creates a perception that is already out there" that the board is divided.

Mr. Sanders has resigned effective Aug. 31 and has been offered the chief executive job at Cleveland public schools.

Yesterday, Ms. Noeske said she was not bothered by the split vote but cautioned the board that divisiveness could hinder the superintendent search.

"You really need a 5-0 vote and that's what I tell boards," she said.

"Even if the board has differences, they need to be 100 percent behind the superintendent."



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