NORWALK, Conn. – The CEO of the superintendent search firm that brought erstwhile super Manny Rivera to Norwalk and was rehired to find Rivera’s replacement is under federal investigation over a no-bid contract involving a related business.
Also, at least three school systems in three states have fired PROACT after reading reports out of Chicago of the CEO’s use of racial slurs and allegations of inappropriate conduct with students when he was an educator several years ago.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, PROACT Chief Executive Officer Gary Solomon was forced out of his former school after his bosses accused him of inappropriate conduct, including allegations he kissed a female student and covered up students’ drug and alcohol use.
The paper also reported that, “in an email to a former female student who had recently graduated, Solomon allegedly referred to African-American people as ‘mooks, shines, burrheads, yard apes, porch monkeys,’ and several other racially offensive terms.
“He also wrote that black people ‘will never set foot in his house,’ according to a transcript of a state hearing held because Solomon initially fought efforts to remove him from the school.
“And, in a personal journal he kept on a school computer, Solomon described another school administrator as an “uppity n—–,” a lawyer for District 219 alleged, according to the transcript.”
The Sun-Times also reported in April:
“Federal subpoenas released by CPS, dated April 13 and 14, extended to a close corps of (Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara) Byrd-Bennett loyalists who worked with her in Cleveland and Detroit before taking six-figure jobs at CPS. Sherry Ulery, the CEO’s $175,000-a-year chief of staff and Rosemary Herpel, a $140,000-a-year ‘executive director of leadership development’ in CPS’ HR department, are due before a federal grand jury on Tuesday.
“Investigators have demanded to see records regarding ‘financial benefits, gifts, honoraria, meals and reimbursements’ from Gary Solomon and Thomas Vranas, the owners of the SUPES Academy, which scored the $20.5 million no-bid contract in June 2013. Documents from Solomon and Vranas’ other north suburban companies Synesi Associates and PROACT Search are also sought.”
According to separate reports from news media in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kentucky, at least three school systems have fired PROACT since early May.
WKYT in Lexington, Ky., reported, “After hours of review and discussion, the Fayette County Board of Education team has voted to move forward with the search for the next superintendent with another search firm. … Last Sunday, the board voted to end the contract with PROACT Search, which was fired back in February. The concerns of the school board came about after allegations revealed in a recent newspaper article. That article by the Chicago Sun-Times reported allegations about PROACT Search CEO, Gary Solomon, going all the way back to 1999.”
In Dakalb, Ill., Decaturish.com reported, “The DeKalb County Schools system has abruptly ended its relationship with ProAct amid concerns about some racist remarks allegedly made by its CEO. SUPES Academy, a company related to ProAct, is under investigation by the FBI over a no-bid contract it received from Chicago Public Schools.”
And in Lancaster, Pa., Lancasteronline.com reported, “The School District of Lancaster is cutting ties with the firm it hired in February to conduct a superintendent search. School directors will terminate a $24,000 contract with Illinois-based PROACT Search at a May 19 board meeting, according to a district press release sent Friday. … ‘Within the past week, disturbing allegations have surfaced concerning the firm’s CEO. While this individual has not been involved in the district’s search, the board strongly opposes continued support of his firm.'”
Norwalk Board of Education Chairman Mike Lyons, responding to an earlier comment on another NoN story, said Norwalk is satisfied with PROACT.
“… There is indeed a controversy involving 16-year-old racially charged statement made by the president of its parent company (Gary Solomon). PROACT informed the Board about this weeks ago. Solomon is not involved in the Norwalk superintendent search. Our primary PROACT representative, Michael Hinojosa, is a Latino and former superintendent of the Dallas schools. Steve Kupfer, who worked with us on the Rivera search, is also involved in this one. The candidates brought us by PROACT this time include men and women, white, Latino and African-American. There isn’t the slightest hint of any kind of racial misconduct by Hinojosa or Kupfer, and the multicultural group of candidates they have brought to us attests to that. Obviously confidentiality obligations prevent me from talking any more about those candidates, but no one on the Board wanted to sever our relationship with Mr. Hinojosa, who is doing an outstanding job for us, because of emails sent by his parent company’s president 16 years ago, long before PROACT even existed. We are at the very last stages of a critically important superintendent search, and are not going to disrupt that because of news articles reporting on ancient emails that have nothing to do with the PROACT people we’re actually working with.”
Lyons did not address the federal investigation stemming from a 2013 report by a Chicago online news site that caused the Chicago Public Schools inspector general to open an investigation.
In December, the Norwalk BoE voted 7-0 to rehire PROACT to conduct its superintendent search at a cost of $33,500 plus expenses. PROACT was paid $19,000 for the search that brought Rivera to Norwalk in 2012. Other firms under consideration for the current search had bid between $18,000 and $19,000.
Requests for comment from the rest of the Norwalk Board of Education members brought no response. A request for comment from PROACT was not immediately answered.