The Coast News Group
The student has spoken at the past two San Dieguito board meetings. File Photo

School district hires executive search firm with a history of bad picks

REGION — The search firm hired by San Dieguito Union High School District to recruit its next superintendent has a strong corner on its niche market, but it has also been highly criticized for certain previous picks.

The San Dieguito school board voted unanimously on June 13 to hire Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates to conduct a superintendent search to fill the seat left vacant by Eric Dill’s resignation. Larry Perondi, retired superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District, has taken the reins of San Dieguito on an interim basis.

The board authorized up to $25,150 for the firm’s executive search.

A Los Angeles Daily News article states that Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates has placed 45 superintendents into the largest 100 school districts in the country.

One controversial pick came in 2015 when the firm recommended Sergio Paez for superintendent of the Minneapolis School District, even though Paez had been cast out of his previous job due to chronic academic underperformance. In April 2015, Massachusetts took control of the Holyoke schools Paez oversaw, citing widespread academic failings. As part of the state receivership, Paez was terminated and replaced.

The Minneapolis district rescinded its employment offer to Paez when a Disability Law Center investigation uncovered abuses that took place at a Holyoke school during Paez’s term. According to The Boston Globe, the report claimed that staff working in a program for emotionally disabled youth had locked students in unlit closets, slammed them against walls, slapped them and committed other acts of excessive force and psychological abuse. 

The withdrawal of the employment offer left Minneapolis schools with a long and expensive search that was on track to cost $200,000 total, according to an article in the Star Tribune. The Minneapolis district paid Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates about half of the firm’s initial $80,000 contract and then went on to hire a different search firm and consultant.

Other criticized picks include Floyd Williams Jr., who served for just over one academic year as superintendent of Des Plaines Elementary District 62 in Illinois. Williams resigned after being accused of sexually harassing five female employees. He collected the remainder of his pay for the year, about $127,000, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates was cast in an unflattering light for failing to discover that Williams had resigned under pressure from his previous assistant superintendent position in Wisconsin when, among other instances of misconduct, nude photos were found on his district-issued computer.

According to the Daily Herald, other candidates recruited and recommended by Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates have been accused of claims like lavish spending, bid fixing, resigning abruptly and making false statements about degrees held.

Beth Hergesheimer, board president of San Dieguito Union High School District, explained in an email with The Coast News that this is the first time the district has worked with the firm. Hergesheimer explained that the district approached three firms, but only two responded in a timely manner with proposals.

She stated, “Before interviewing HYA [Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates], I spoke with board members from other San Diego County school districts that used HYA for superintendent searches and heard that they had good search and placement experiences. I am not aware of any controversial hiring recommendations by any California teams working for HYA.”

Hazard, Young, Attea and Associates recently recruited Dr. Julie Vitale, who was hired to take the helm of Oceanside Unified. The firm also found Jodee Brentlinger for Solana Beach School District. Both start their new positions on July 1.

The two recruiters assigned to San Dieguito by the firm are Dr. David Cash and Dr. Rudy Castruita, both retired California superintendents. While it’s common for school executive search firms to hire former superintendents, the practice has elicited some frustrations. California taxpayers fund expensive superintendent salaries and benefits, pay for those superintendents’ large retirement pensions and then compensate those same individuals again to work as recruits for public school districts.

While it’s unclear how much Castruita makes now in retirement or as a recruiter, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported in 2010: “Castruita receives the region’s top educator pension of $281,034 a year, or 107 percent of his final salary. That pay in retirement exceeds U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s 2009 base salary of $196,700.”

Castruita and Cash held town hall meetings with the public and made themselves available for questions at the district office July 2–3. Rita Macdonald attended the meeting hosted by Castruita on July 2 at Canyon Crest Academy and said he “did a very good job of moderating the session.” She reported that 10 people attended.

Macdonald said attendees provided feedback on the characteristics the community was looking for in a superintendent, which included transparency, great communication, an “expert understanding of school budgets,” the ability to unite diverse perspectives and the willingness to be hands-on and even teach a class. 

For her part, when asked what qualities she sought in a superintendent, Hergesheimer wrote, “I am seeking a superintendent with solid experience and credentials who is a good communicator and has a history of building trust and relationships. My ideal candidate will also be someone who gets energized by their daily challenges and who can help San Dieguito become an even better place for the students in our community to receive a great education.”

The firm expects to start interviewing top candidates for the San Dieguito superintendent position in mid-August.


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