Atlanta Public Schools fires superintendent search firm

Atlanta’s school board has fired its superintendent search firm, PROACT Search, because of concerns that the company wouldn’t be able to land a top-tier leader for the troubled city school district.

The board voted 6-2 Thursday night to seek a new company that would focus exclusively on Atlanta’s needs and dedicate more resources to the superintendent hiring process. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was the first media outlet to learn of the vote.

Members of a committee overseeing the search worried that PROACT’s time and staffing were divided between several school districts it represents that are also looking for new superintendents, said committee Chairwoman Ann Cramer.

PROACT’s website says it is handling five superintendent searches across the country, which raised doubts about whether the best available candidate would be directed to Atlanta.

“We want the firm to have Atlanta as the highest priority of their search processes,” Cramer said. “Every person on the committee recognized that we needed additional professionalism.”

Atlanta Public Schools has paid PROACT $10,227 for creating a job description and gathering community feedback from residents following years of cheating scandals, disputes over school closings and lackluster academic results. PROACT’s total contract, awarded in February, was worth up to $30,000, and the firm will continue working for the school district over the next 30 days until a new firm is hired.

Superintendent Erroll Davis, who took control of Atlanta Public Schools as an investigation into standardized test cheating was being released in July 2011, plans to step down at the end of the 2013-2014 school year. Davis’ predecessor, Beverly Hall, faces criminal allegations that she conspired to artificially inflate standardized test scores, according to an indictment.

“We as a board want to make sure that we have the best chance to identify, recruit and ultimately employ the best superintendent for Atlanta Public Schools,” said Board of Education Chairman Reuben McDaniel. “It takes a high-level recruiting effort, and we need to bring the best resources to the table to do that.”

PROACT, based in Wilmette, Ill., didn’t return a phone message and an email seeking comment Friday. The company was also fired by the San Antonio Independent School District in April after it recruited one finalist who then withdrew his candidacy, according to the San Antonio Express-News. PROACT’s website lists more than 60 school districts it has worked with on superintendent searches.

The job description developed by PROACT will be posted Monday, the same day that a new contract for a company to handle the hiring process will be advertised, McDaniel said. The board plans to decide on a new firm at its Aug. 12 meeting.

The superintendent job will pay between $275,000 and $325,000, with extra salary possible for an ideal candidate, according to the draft job posting approved by the board Thursday. Candidates should have a school administrative background, leadership experience of a large organization and live in Atlanta within one year after hiring.

The school board renewed Davis’ $240,000-a-year contract in December following dissent over his removal of six administrators from North Atlanta High School. The contract calls for his termination upon the hiring of a replacement superintendent or a majority vote of the board.

The next search firm’s contract may be more expensive than PROACT’s was.

The Superintendent Search Committee has agreed to raise money from outside sources because the upcoming request for proposals will allow the firm to work with outside partners for additional expertise, McDaniel said. He said the amount of the contract will depend on the results of the bid process.

Applications for superintendent will be due Oct. 1, and a new superintendent is scheduled to be hired early next year, Cramer said.