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.