School board members say the buck stops at DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green when it comes to hiring. (AJC FILE PHOTO)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DeKalb Schools paid search firm $140,000 in 2016, but few records explain why

The high-dollar search firm the DeKalb County School District paid to find eight top administrators during the 2015-2016 school year produced no report on its work for school district officials.

On its website, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates takes credit for placing two DeKalb school administrators, though it charged the district more than $140,000. Three of the eight open positions went to former colleagues of Superintendent Steve Green.

Whether it was an effective use of money depends on who’s asked.

Green has said while the firm — an arm of suburban Chicago educational consultant ECRA Group Inc. — didn’t find all the selected candidates for the positions it was charged with helping fill, it would have a hand in vetting all candidates, including those he recommended.

And one school district official says he understands a lack of written reports go to confidentiality concerns — helping to protect applicants’ privacy — which is key to search processes.

“It would be detrimental to the ones that didn’t get hired if certain information was available,” DeKalb County Board of Education Chairman Melvin Johnson said. “That’s why our confidence level in the firm (has to be) so high.”

School board member Joyce Morley disagreed with hiring the firm in the first place, calling it unnecessary due diligence and wasted money, as the people who would fill many of the positions had been decided already.

“Most of the stuff we’re actually authorizing, there’s no follow-up or anything to the board,” Morley said.

HYA produced a general report of services it performed only after an inquiry from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A summary said the firm received information from 299 people interested in the positions. The firm’s statement said it typically recruits, screens, interviews and proposes candidates.

The district had initially contracted with HYA in September 2015 to find candidates for the director of special education, chief legal officer and chief academic and accountability officer positions.

HYA’s contract was amended to include searches for a director of charter schools, school governance and flexibility, an executive director for facilities and operations, chief communications and community relations officer, chief human capital management officer and executive director for student achievement.

On its website, the group takes credit for placing Chief Legal Officer Jennifer Hackemeyer and Laura Stowell, the director of charters, school governance and flexibility. It also helped fill a principal’s position, which it originally was not contracted to do.

According to the agreement, HYA was guaranteed $122,500 for fees related to eight job searches, even if the district decided not to go through with the search process.

Johnson said the decisions on who gets hired are up to the superintendent, because the board has faith in his decision-making.

“We lost our accreditation because we got into the micromanaging in the hiring,” he said of district issues from several years ago. “That was part of it. They hired their cousins instead of a selected process.”

Green made the final selections, with board approval, including three from his previous school district.

Green introduced Leo Brown, Manomay Malathip and Eileen Houston-Stewart at the January 2016 Board of Education meeting. Brown had been Green’s human capital management officer at Kansas City Public Schools before moving to Atlanta to work for Emory Healthcare. The school system hired him as interim human capital management officer. Malathip and Houston-Stewart, who were still working for Kansas City Public Schools before they came to Atlanta, arrived as the interim executive director for student advancement and interim chief communications and community relations officer, respectively.

Brown missed work for more than two months between December and March because of personal issues before district officials announced he would be reassigned to a position in the district’s operations division after facing “health challenges.”

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