PUSD Governing Board delays superintendent search, says more information needed

By Philip Haldiman, Independent Newsmedia

The Peoria Unified School District Governing Board decided to postpone the search for a new superintendent in order to meet and learn more about the two finalists that could conduct the search — Nebraska-based McPherson & Jacobson and the Arizona School Boards Association.

The company that eventually contracts with  the district will search for a new leader to replace former Superintendent Darwin Stiffler, who was voted from his position by the governing board at a public meeting Dec. 7.

The governing board requested to have the two companies placed on the Feb. 22 agenda of the regular governing board meeting for discussion and possible approval.

PUSD CFO Kenneth Hicks said it is not uncommon to bring consultants in for discussion when searching for a new superintendent, but he said, it will delay the process in this situation.

Last month, district staff sent out a request for quote to more than 10 vendor candidates for the superintendent search. Four vendors responded and  were presented to each board member, who individually reviewed each quote according to evaluation criteria and ranked them one through four, with one being the best and four being the worst. The result was a tie for first place between McPherson & Jacobson and the Arizona School Boards Association.

Governing board approval was needed for this decision. Instead, the board voted on Feb. 8 to continue the item to learn more about the candidates.

However, there was division between the board members before deciding to postpone the vote.

Initially, Governing Board member Kathy Knecht moved to  approve Arizona School Boards Association for the superintendent search and Governing Board member David Sandoval seconded the motion. Governing Board members Judy Doane, who attended the meeting via phone, and Beverly Pingerelli dissented. Ms. Ceja Martinez abstained. The motion did not pass. Ms. Pingerelli made a second motion to table the vote to learn more about the finalists. Ms. Ceja Martinez seconded the motion, which passed unanimously, paving the way for a future meeting to learn more about the organizations. Cost for McPherson & Jacobson is $29,900 but not to exceed $36,500 for added expenses. Cost for Arizona School Boards Association is $28,000, with possible additional costs, according to a document.

Ms. Pingerelli said there were good things about the vendors, but wanted more information about the two finalists.

She said McPherson & Jacobson was her first choice, but cited a concern with a superintendent search they conducted with Omaha public schools in which they did not come up with a candidate and ended with Omaha public schools backing out. She also noted the firm is currently conducting 18 searches and questioned their ability to focus on PUSD.

However, she said, McPherson & Jacobson offer a three-day stakeholder input session to speak with the district and community to find out what everybody is looking for in a superintendent and then bring their findings to the board.

“This is the beginning of a very long process,” she said. “I  think the past board members who have been through this process know how emotional and time consuming it is … It would be nice to be able to meet with them.”

Ms. Ceja Martinez said although there were positives, she had concerns with the finalists, adding that both companies did not have data on bond or override information, which the district is considering for this year’s general election in November.

She preferred to learn more about the companies and interview both.

“We want to make sure we are a fit on both ends of the conversation table, if they align with our morals and values and what the governing board is looking for and vise/versa,” she said.

Ms. Knecht and Mr. Sandoval preferred Arizona School Boards Association for a number of reasons.

“I chose ASBA for two reasons — one, I really think based on the companies we looked at they would probably end up  bringing us a very similar pool of candidates,” she said. “I was also looking at cost and was looking at ASBA being the only company within our state. I happen to be a very buy-local kind of gal. Their knowledge of our state as a whole, and the landscape of professionals that are in the state and what any professional from outside the state would be entering into.”

Similarly, Mr. Sandoval said his support of ASBA came from relevance — understand the state’s market.

“All that knowledge in my mind gives me the peace of mind with ASBA’s understanding that in their search will ensure a candidate who can work within the dynamics of our state and district and lead us into the future to be successful,” he said.


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