By Raymond Billy

The Board of Trustees of the Jacksonville Independent School District on Monday hired a firm whose task will be to find candidates to replace the district’s current superintendent, Stuart Bird. Bird announced earlier this month he will retire at the end of the school year.

During a special meeting, TASB Executive Search Services was chosen by the school board to seek out superintendent prospects. The firm has participated in more than 500 such projects and is currently assisting the Central Independent School District in Polk and Vidor ISD in their efforts to find new superintendents. Executive Search recently completed work with Overton ISD, where Alan Umholtz was hired in June.

After each group gave a presentation outlining their strengths to the school board, Executive Search beat out Arrow Educational Services Inc. of Henderson and Horn, Smith, Wood and Preston LLC of Terrell for the job. At $7,300, Executive Search offered the second-lowest base rate for its services behind Arrow’s $7,000, but travel costs could have potentially changed that equation.

But, board members suggested after the meeting that the differences in the firms’ fees were so miniscule as to not factor in their decision. Trustee Pat McCown said Executive Search’s long list of clients was what gave the firm his favor.

“When you’ve helped as many school districts as they’ve worked with, you know they have the expertise to match us with some solid candidates,” McCown said. “That’s not to say the other firms wouldn’t have done a fine job — I think we couldn’t have gone wrong no matter who we chose. I just think it’s only natural that the more experience you have in something, the better you are at it.”

Although he said he was comfortable that each group had the integrity to carry out the superintendent search, Trustee James Tarrant said the sheer volume of candidates with which Executive Search has dealt made it the safest pick.

“Given how many districts they’ve worked with, it’s not likely that they’ll be biased toward certain candidates they might have had past dealings with, rather than searching for the ones that match our needs,” Tarrant said. “That’s probably the case with all of the group’s we heard from tonight, but TASB has the most clout.”

Executive Search, an Austin-based group, has conducted more than three times the number of superintendent searches its counterparts at Monday’s meeting have, combined.

The company also boasts a large army of field representatives who keep tabs on every school district in the state and have in-depth knowledge their superintendents, said Butch Felkner, an Executive Search consultant who spoke on behalf of the company Monday.

Trustees voted unanimously to hire Executive Search, but Trustees Joe Casey, Jimmy Brown, and Board President James Houser expressed a preference for HSWP LLC. The board was tilted in favor of the Austin firm by Trustee Larry Folden, who said he liked HSWP, but was concerned it was the least experienced of the firms interviewed Monday.

Owing to the fact that any of the firms would have been acceptable choices, Brown, Casey and Houser voted with the majority to hire Executive Search.

The JISD Board of Trustees regularly meets at 6:30 p.m. the third Monday of each month at the JISD Administration Building, 1547 Pine St.

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