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Norwalk BoE again chooses PROACT for superintendent search

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons

Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons leads a brief BoE meeting Friday in City Hall.

Update, 12:24 Dec. 20, story is complete.

NORWALK, Conn. – PROACT is returning for another Norwalk superintendent search, this time at a higher price tag than before.

The Board of Education voted unanimously, 7-0, Friday night to select PROACT as its superintendent search firm at a fee of $33,500 plus costs. PROACT led the search that netted Manny Rivera as Norwalk superintendent for about $19,000, Board Chairman Mike Lyons said. The three other firms that bid for the work all wanted between $18,000 to $19,000, according to information from Lyons.

The public meeting lasted less than three minutes and was preceded by a half-hour long meeting held in private to discuss the search firm, which Lyons said complied with the Freedom of Information Act because the Board has designated itself as an executive personnel search committee for executive level employment candidates.

Heidi Keyes and Migdalia Rivas were absent. Keyes said Tuesday that she couldn’t make it but wanted the Board to meet so the matter could be addressed as soon as possible.

Lyons said Chief Financial Officer Rich Rudl had informed him that there is at least $100,000 available in the unemployment compensation account to cover the cost of the superintendent search. Several other firms were considered, Lyons said.

Asked if the search could find someone of Rivera’s caliber, Lyons said, “I think it will be more difficult. That’s part of the reason their fee is higher than it was two years ago.”

Lyons said the firm will identify desirable candidates and reach out to them to convince them that Norwalk is a desirable district to lead, in spite of the controversies that have been reported in the press.

“Basically, what they said to us is that, particularly in the age of the Internet, they’re going to read lots of NancyOnNorwalk articles, a few in the Norwalk Hour, and they’re going to see the controversy and everything and it will scare some people off,” Lyons said. “They said, ‘What we need to be able to do is get people beyond that.’ That means that they think that this time around we’re going to need to more actively recruit people.”

But Lyons said the firm will go beyond those who have sent in resumes in response to an ad.

“We know that there are people out there that have the qualities that we need for this job and we’re going to have to have feet on the ground saying, ‘Even though you read controversies in the press you still ought to let us seriously consider this and let us have a chance to sell you on it.’ PROACT’s position is you have a great product to sell. ‘Your school system’s improving, your schools are going up, you’ve got a lot of reforms that Rivera has started that are still in progress,’” Lyons said.

Plus, Norwalk is right on Long Island Sound and 45 minutes from New York City, Lyons said.

“We’re going to have to go really out and sell people on that and say to them, ‘Don’t concentrate your attention on the sparks. A lot of that stuff is not representative of what’s actually happening in the city, it’s just controversy. But there’s more work involved in that than hiring a superintendent for Westport where everything is fine and nobody is fighting about anything,” Lyons said.

But, Lyons said, Rivera described BoE meetings as “The Weekly Torture Session.”

PROACT VP Steve Kupfer will help lead the search, which is important because he was the Board’s prime contact in the search that found Rivera, Lyons said. “We know this guy. We know we’re going to get a good person to manage this process and that’s a key factor that led us to favor PROACT,” Lyons said.

PROACT led an extensive community outreach with its last superintendent search. That’s probably not necessary this time, as the survey is only two years old, Lyons said. “It’s the same people, the same community, you’re not going to get dramatically different results from it,” he said.

“That’s another advantage we have with PROACT, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel with a lot of stuff,” Lyons said.

The firm is guaranteeing that the new superintendent will stay two years, Lyons said. The industry standard is one year, which is what PROACT agreed to least time, he said. That was done at the urging of BoE member Artie Kassimis, he said.

The other bidders were Ray and Associates ($19,000 plus expenses), New England School Development Council ($18,000 plus expenses) and Connecticut Association of Boards of Education ($19,000 plus expenses), Lyons said.

 Correction, 9:35 p.m., PROACT quote removed.

37 comments

LWitherspoon December 19, 2014 at 8:30 pm

I hope the updated story will explain in greater detail why the fee is higher. What additional work will be done to justify the higher fee?

hook line and sinker December 19, 2014 at 9:15 pm

Double? DOUBLE? Great negotiation skills by some. Unfortunately, not anyone representing the district.

hook line and sinker December 19, 2014 at 9:32 pm

“We have a pretty great process and track record for recruiting and have nearly 150 applications so far,” said Tom VarnAs, responding to a commenter named Karen. Believe Mr VarnAs was stating he had 150 applicants for Ferguson, MO not Norwalk in reference to Karen’s well wishes for Mr VarnAs’s contract with Ferguson, which was just slapped with an ACLU lawsuit for discrimination on the Board of Education.

Mike Lyons December 19, 2014 at 9:47 pm

LW, the explanation of the increase in the fee is in the updated article by Nancy.

hook, if only you would come out from behind your screen name we could use you to negotiate our contracts for us with your own ‘great negotiation skills’. Alas, your decision to hide behind it prevents us from taking advantage of your obvious talents.

The most important action a Board of Education takes is recruiting a superintendent of schools. The cost of this contract is 0.00021 of our $166,000,000 million budget (2/100ths of 1%). We could, I suppose, have saved 1/100th of 1% by going for a less expensive firm (but one with no knowledge of Norwalk, unlike Proact), but we decided to go for quality and experience instead.

Joanna Cooper December 19, 2014 at 11:18 pm

Good Job BOE! Nice to see a unanimous decision to invest in quality leadership for our students. The extra money is worth the extra year on the contract and finding a top notch candidate to carry on with reforms. The community desires continued positive changes for our school district.

GRknight December 19, 2014 at 11:47 pm

Good Job BOE ?

Now the interim superintendent gets FOUR paychecks.

Why we hire nobody & Mr. Lyons with his majority BOE take the responsibility & run schools as they wish ?

We can privatize BOE …less stress .

hook line and sinker December 20, 2014 at 12:21 am

Question; If Ferguson has 150 applicants, with all the international bad press, how can this small, local, indie, news blog’s exposure compare to Fergusons international exposure? With all that negative publicity, you have to be living under a rock not to hear about Ferguson and Ferguson has 150 applicants, for a position that compensates less than Norwalk – How could Norwalk’s search be hindered by a local mom and pop and son news blog that supposedly will limit the candidate pool and increase the efforts by Proact to locate viable candidates for Norwalk, thereby justifying a near doubling of the fee just some 3 months or so after Proacts guarantee expired? And what is Dr Rivera stepping into where he is going? A cake walk? With a significant pay cut?

Question; What were the other proposals by the three or four other executive search organizations that submitted proposals? How much did they under bid Proact?

Didn’t a former board member, who was involved in the last search, suggest, in a recent post, that “since all the preliminary work was completed just 18 or so months ago, if Proact is on the final cut, there should be some wiggle room to reduce the costs from the last contract”, or something similar? What happened? Proact didn’t reduce they doubled their profits. Any increase, by the same vendor, for the same service, just out of industry warranty, is unwarranted. Double? C’mon.

If the next candidate chosen leaves in 13-18 months, like the previous two, what will Pro-cats fees be than, 60g’s? Did Pro-cats offer an extended warranty this time? According to their own website, they actually only did ONE week of screening, to narrow it down with Dr Rivera being on the short list, last contract with Norwalk, which is, lets get to the nitty gritty, its what most of their task is,(screening)right?

So lets take a second and do the math. Hard to resist.

5 days divided by $19,000 equals what? $3,800, a day. Not bad. So if they do one week of actual work this time at what $36,000 or so, that’s what $7,200+ a day, wow. That’s really good take home for a days pay. Wonder how many mom and pops make that in a day? This is a very, very lucrative business plan. Kick backs anyone? Should be, anyway, at these prices. May be inexact but it gives an illustration.

In contrast, just for illustration, a super, mostly works 5 days, year round and one or two nights a month, at least for Board meetings, not to mention all the other activities they must show up for like school games, shows, graduations etc etc. Based only on a five day work week, a super roughly nets just under $1,000 a day, much less when calculating all extra time for everything else, including board meetings and graduations etc, that the superintendent must be in attendance for.

Would like to ask Mr Connelly, our new seat holder, who is on staff of a competing executive search organization, who is actually a head hunter himself for NESDEC, in his other capacity, when he isn’t jumping into his super dipper costume and flying into districts in disarray to smile allot in as many photo ops as possible and repeat as often as possible; “Chin up there, (fill in), BoE members, staff, parents, students, it could be worse.” Now get out that check book. Would like to learn more about this lucrative carousel..

Anyone outside looking in may see a huge carousel, certainly feels like we are on that little brightly decorated horsey, being taken for a ride, round and round. Each time around, instead of grabbing for the brass ring, we get to toss gold coin at the operators.

Anyone outside looking in may see one giant money making scam, that is not about what it should be, preparing our students and constructing a solid foundation for their lives ahead to build upon.

How did things get so twisted around?

And Mr Lyons, to respond; respectfully sir, you got taken, which means the district was taken, yet again. Respectfully, perhaps it is time to come down off that high horse you have been ride’n so hard sir. But, it isn’t expected, you don’t seem to accept any critique at all, no less absorb and improve. There are conditions known as over confidence and/or extreme self promotion, the clinical term is narcissism. This condition is usually permanent on those suffering the afflictions, as they never seek out or listen to differing opinions, they only seek out and promote anything that supports their own narcissistic behaviors. Never do they accept reasonable critique from sound minds, try and use it to improve performance or avoid repeating costly time and money errors, no, when critiqued they attack the messengers to distract from the message, seek to fault anything and/or anyone rather than to accept the critique, chew it over a bit, digest it and try and learn. Learn. What a magical word indeed. We are teaching computers to do it but we have a hard time doing it ourselves. Maybe Professor Hawkings is right. Maybe we should fear AI.

Kathleen Montgomery December 20, 2014 at 12:45 am

Jeez-on-man Hook, that was quite the rambling diatribe. “Reasonable critique from sound minds”this is not. Makes me wonder who’s hiding behind the name and if, just perhaps, you noticed the part in the story that candidates would be reading NON and decided this was your chance to conduct a covert attack on Mike Lyons. Bad form. The facts have been explained and your mud-throwing won’t change them.

Nice job BOE for an informed speedy choice with a rationale that makes sense for the students of Norwalk.

Mark Chapman December 20, 2014 at 12:53 am

@ Hook…

The info about the other bidders was added late; it is in the story now (mentioned in the lead, more detailed at the end). The story did point out that PROACT is giving a two-year guarantee instead of the traditional one. And one point of vanity: We aren’t a blog, which is generally a collection of opinions ofered by the blogger. WE prefer to be known as a local mom and pop and son indie news site… 🙂

hook line and sinker December 20, 2014 at 1:26 am

Procats, did not offer an extended warranty, Artie demanded it,
good negotiating there rev, tip of the hat to ya.
So if next one leaves or is terminated in under 24 months from date of hire, we get a freebie and get stuck with Procats, yet again. Well lets see, lets do the math; $36,000 divided by 2 equals $18,000. Ah, yes, much more in the ball park. Indeed, Procats are pros, hedging their bets. See, Mike, they were ready for it. Your a good guy and can be a decent leader, if you can just learn to listen better and lighten it up, just a smidgen, at least tone down if not completely eliminate the abrasive divisive language. Explore ways to bring folks together and encourage productive working environments and relationships. Far as the comment about the torture sessions, is that the kind of press we want sir? Looking at all the bad press you mention, guess who is in every article?

Norewalk Lifer December 20, 2014 at 5:50 am

Of course, the school system is improving and we are right on Long Island Sound, 45 minutes from NYC.

These are selling points for us, and have nothing to do with PROACT, if we need a consultant at 33,500 to “illuminate” this, then we need to walk out our front doors more often.

Secondly, this quote is disturbing:

But, Lyons said, Rivera described BoE meetings as “The Weekly Torture Session.”

Do we really think it’s okay for Mr. Lyons to speak for Mr. Rivera? can we at least get Mr. Rivera to respond to this alleged quote?

If the weekly meetings are Torture sessions, then shouldn’t the whole board, the whole board readdress what their purpose is?

Of course, I will see a response from Mr. Lyons to come out from behind a screen name, and be “transparent”, because this is what he does, but can he settle down and understand that no one, no one is “100% right” all the time? no one can be.

And it’s a shame that there are BOE members who cite ignorance as to the recruiters and their abilities, how do we fix issues like this? thru engagement and education.

Maybe the board should meet, unofficially, without the NoN and others there, to hash out issues like this.

Maybe without the light of journalists shining on them, they will be less apt to “act” and more inclined to “do”.

I am sure it’s not easy being the chair of Norwalk’s BOE, I never said it was, but really it’s okay for tax payers to question the costs for recruiting, and the details, after all, it’s their money.

One last note, isn’t there some restrictions on dealing with firms involved with litigations? no, this is not an insidious question, this was the norm for many decades in business, of course, everything changes.

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Regards
Norwalk Lifer

Oldtimer December 20, 2014 at 8:09 am

Lifer
The BOE did meet in private, without the press or any other audience, it is called “executive session” and is allowed for public agencies like the BOE when the are talking about personell issues and a few other times. In the most recent meeting, they spent an hour in executive session, and only a few minutes in a open-to-the-public session where they voted to hire proact. Mike Lyons is very careful about details in following the law and regulations on procedure allowed for BOEs. The BOE looked at all the bids, discussed the merits, and made a decision. That is all that is reasonably expected of them. Let’s hope the process works for the City this time and we get a Rivera caliber superintendent sometime soon. MERRY CHRISTMAS

Drew Todd December 20, 2014 at 8:35 am

I would like to comend the BOE for taking more time away from their families on a FRIDAY NIGHT. Though this meeting was not necessary in my opinion but none the less the correct and proper decision was made. I have confidence in the BOE and PROTRAC that another very qualified candidate will be found. We as a COMMUNITY can only hope that they are equal to Dr Rivera’s skills, organization, commitment to our schools, children and our city. And like I have said in this space and public the nonsense and BS like some of the comments that have been printed MUST STOP! And myself and a lot of others who are still very upset that we are even going through this again in such a short time will not stand for it! Those days and times are OVER! Dr Rivera said at one of the very first times I met him something very interesting to me. Either get on my train or get hit by it, doing things the “Old Norwalk Way” haven’t worked and need to change. He was very well on his way to doing that along with the majority of the BOE. This train may now have a different engineer but the motto message must be the same…This is our future!! And I will not stand by and let a very select few try and derail it for our children! I wish the BOE a very Happy Holiday and thank you all again for your dedication to our schools and especially our children!

Mike Lyons December 20, 2014 at 8:38 am

Holy Toledo, hook, your ‘War and Peace’-length posts may set a new record! All over a $33K contract against a $166 million budget! I think hook doth protest too much; perhaps another anti-reform obstructionist afraid that Proact will find us another reform superintendent who will continue upsetting the status quo?

Mike Lyons December 20, 2014 at 8:41 am

Lifer, note that the Board unanimously supported Proact after a constructive executive session. Isn’t that what you keep insisting we should do, work together and be inclusive? So we do so and you attack us anyway?

And the litigation mentioned above is against the city of Ferguson, not against Proact.

Nor Walker December 20, 2014 at 8:43 am

I would be more interested in the percentage of the available funds being used versus the percentage of the total budget.
This year there have been many new jobs created and filled at the BOE. There was a top person laid off short of their contract ending. And the ELL funds seem to have been unexpected as well. I’m assuming the person who was let go will have to paid while a second person is also being paid to fill those shoes. And a new superintendent will probably demand more money then the last, which has been the case every time a new one is chosen.
It wasn’t long ago that there were many layoffs, including the librarians. Will there be layoffs again to the smaller salaries to accommodate all of these increases of six figure positions? I would hope not because it seems this $33k+ expenses is such a tiny amount of the available $100k that Mr. Rudl mentioned.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega December 20, 2014 at 8:51 am

Assuming PROACT finds another gem of a candidate for superintendent, will that new candidate, once installed and at work find that the often decried coterie of obstructionists on the BOE is ready to lay “The Weekly Torture Session” on him/her?

What is being done about that? Seems like step #1 to resolve.

John Hamlin December 20, 2014 at 9:40 am

Advice to any prospective candidates for the superintendent position reading NancyOnNorwalk comments — pay no attention to any commenters who refuse to identify themselves and who hide behind fake names while they trumpet the need for “transparency” and a lack of secrecy in an executive search process — they are hypocrites AND don’t have a lick of sense. (Not to mention that many of them seem to make up multiple names so they can have a snarky conversation with themselves.) Nancy — when are you going to strike a blow for civil discourse and ban the use of fake names?

Taxpayer Fatigue December 20, 2014 at 9:41 am

Good job, BOE and thank you Mike Lyons. You put up with way too much as a volunteer. Since superintendents around the nation have a high turnover, I would hire someone with the expectation that they will only be here two or three years, and is willing to make the tough personnel decisions that need to be made, and has a high tolerance for the 84,000 Monday morning quarterbacks in Norwalk who are constantly willing to offer their own opinions, short of volunteering and getting involved.

MarjorieM December 20, 2014 at 10:33 am

Nor Walker, who was the top person laid off short of their contract? I know Ives was sent to central office, but she is still there. Then there is the high school administrator, but I don’t know who the top person is. Please at least tell the position.

Piberman December 20, 2014 at 10:39 am

A Supt candidate reading the above discussions criticizing the BOE selection process would have few doubts about the “realities in Norwalk”. Once upon a time criticism of the BOE took place at BOE meetings in full public view. Where all BOE members could respond.

Lifelong Teacher December 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

Oh Marge. Now you’re just playing with us. You know all the details, they’ve been carefully fed to you.

John Hamlin December 20, 2014 at 11:11 am

To Mike Lyons and the BOE — a sensible step forward to find another great superintendent. Keep up the good work reforming Norwalk’s public schools. Thank you!

Piberman December 20, 2014 at 11:45 am

What steps are being taken by the community to end the sharp divisions in the BOE before a new Supt comes aboard ? Does the NAACP have suggestions ? Council members ? Mayor ?
PTOs ? Legislators ? Parents ? NFT ? Or do we go forward with unresolved charges of discrimination against the BOE. That’s a sure fired formula for public school failure and revolving Supts ? And declining property values. No other BOE in CT is burdened by these discrimination charges and a community without any interest in resolving them.

Mike Lyons December 20, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Rod – good point. Partially that requires work on the inside at the BoE, but it also will require a real focus by the DTC and RTC on nominating candidates for the BoE who understand that their roles are not to be mini-superintendents, micromanaging the actual superintendent. Their role is to set policy, hire a good superintendent and staff, and let them do their jobs.

Nor Walker — the $33K is covered by the (minimum) $100K surplus in our unemployment account, but if we keep managing our funds well, we will have much more than that available (last year we finished the year with a $2.9 million surplus, half of which is being used for tax relief in the next City budget). As you note, we are adding many positions in next year’s budget, but the costs of those positions are being offset by major savings due to favorable union contract negotiations and in-housing of special education students. I’m not aware of a top person being laid off – can you explain that one? And there are no planned layoffs (we are adding staff, despite the smallest percentage budget increase request in at least 15 years this year).

MarjorieM December 20, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Thank you, Mike, for stating that no one is being laid off and that Lifelong Teacher is wrong. There has been much written here and on NorwalkSpeaks about a person at central office, with a high level position, being let go. Some even went so far as to say there would be dancing in the streets. I am glad to hear that people don’t know what they are talking about.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega December 20, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Mike L.: Agreed. It seems it comes down to informing the electorate about the qualifications of candidates for the BOE–and the willingness of voters to select the best qualified candidates rather than ones that can make the most noise on the mistaken assumption that abrasive representation is best for the needs of their constituents.

Oldtimer December 20, 2014 at 9:10 pm

For what it’s worth, a little online research shows the national average tenure for public school superintendents is about 3 years. Times have changed, and we can not blame it on our BOE, nor on a few members, it is a nationwide, fact of life, statistic.

Dr Rivera was an exceptional person for a very difficult job and, for reasons of his own, mostly personal, (possibly a recent marriage ?) he left before we expected. With a little luck, his successor will continue the progress Rivera, and this BOE, started and the next search will be a long way off.

The beauty part of living in this country is, among other great things, we can post opinions, and facts, anonymously, when commenting on news stories. The minute we loose that, we are started downhill on a very slippery slope. Some of us appreciate that some comments are not fair, or true, or even reasonable. I, for one, hope none of our public officials, who take the most flak, ever forget how precious the right to comment without giving your name is. Even the CT FOI law protects that right when speaking at a public meeting, although most public meetings find a way to ignore that part of the law, for the “stenographer’s convenience”. I sometimes use my given name here, but not often. As long as that choice remains mine, I am comfortable.
MERRY CHRISTMAS

MarjorieM December 20, 2014 at 10:45 pm

For those who celebrate Hanukkah, Happy Hanukkah.

For those who celebrate Christmas, Merry Christmas.

For anyone I missed, Happy Holidays!

GRknight December 21, 2014 at 3:44 am

Rod Lopez-Fabrega

Don’t expect an answer .
As Mr. Rivera bravely said ” It was a Weekly Torture Session.”

Rod Lopez-Fabrega December 21, 2014 at 12:46 pm

To all those members of the BOE who feel it is necessary to holler rudely in order to be heard (they know who they are—and the rest of Norwalk has come to understand), everyone is sensitive to the fact that those few individuals carry an historic and justified anger they mistakenly feel begs for constant abrasive expression. I would ask those few to glance at the daily news for inspiration from the perfect example of how to get things done quietly, well considered and with dignity: that would be Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

For those who missed the NYTimes article yesterday: “Obama Unbound”, Timothy Egan points out that, in his quiet and non-bombastic style our President has effectively undone Cuba’s poisonous isolation, halted family destroying deportations, provided health insurance for millions who never had it before, has prompted China and the United States as the world’s two worst polluters to work effectively toward addressing climate change issues, has checkmated Putin’s Russian aggressiveness without military involvement, has inspired North Korea to begin making nice, and with little time left in office, he’s just begun.

BOE, please note: no hollering involved, continuing attempts to cooperate and work with those who seek to obstruct everything the country needs to accomplish, and gentlemanly and effective procedures in every effort to improve the lives of the larger constituency (all of us.

Is it too naïve to hope that all members of the Board of Education, one of our most important governmental bodies here in Norwalk, would understand that they are working for the benefit of all our children and not to address past injustices?

Oldtimer December 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

When you have been brought up with the idea that you, and your entire race, are victims because some of your ancestors were bought and sold as slaves, it is sometimes difficult to put that behind you. As true as that is, at some point, you need to look forward to what you can now accomplish, and stop looking back at terrible injustices that happened to some of your ancestors. If you bother to look at the history of slavery involving African people, you will discover that the evil people who took prisoners from one part of Africa, and sold them into slavery, were themselves Africans. Of course, there would be no money in that business if some in this country were not willing to purchase slaves as the cheapest possible labor. None of this justifies what was done, and there is no way to undo any of it. But the people who are willing to work hard, get an education, and make something of themselves, have never had better opportunities.

Unfortunately there are wealthy people who have made their fortunes trying to keep minorities focused on every bit of evidence there is that we are not all treated equally. Some of them serve the purpose of getting more minority citizens focused on getting more equal treatment, which may be a good thing, but there is no denying, they have gotten rich in the process. They capitalize on ignorance of the law, and misleading language, to stir up emotional response where reasoned response is what is needed.

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NancyOnNorwwalk.com was conceived as the place to go for Norwalk residents to get the real, unvarnished story about what is going on in and around their city. NancyOnNorwalk does not intend to be a print newspaper online; rather, it exists to pull the curtain back and shine a spotlight on how Norwalk is run and what is happening regarding issues that have an impact on taxpayers’ pocketbooks and safety. As an independent site, NancyOnNorwalk’s first and only allegiance is to the reader.

About Nancy

Nancy came to Norwalk in September 2010 and, after reporting on Norwalk for two years for another company, resigned to begin Nancy On Norwalk so she engage in journalism the way it was meant to be done. She is married to career journalist Mark Chapman, has a son, Eric (the artist and web designer who built this website), and two cats – a middle-aged lady and a young hottie who are learning how to peacefully co-exist.