FORT WORTH — The school board is expected to sign a contract “not to exceed $60,000” with an Iowa-based search firm that will assist in selecting the Fort Worth school district’s next superintendent, officials said.The firm, Ray and Associates Inc. of Cedar Rapids, beat out a handful of competitors, including Houston-based Thompson and Horton. The board is expected to finalize a contract with the company this week, board President Norman Robbins said.Ray was selected, in part, because of its national network of 140 current and former school executives, who can help recruit viable candidates to Fort Worth. Ray’s staff, for example, includes former El Paso school district Superintendent Stan Paz, a big draw for some school board members who emphasized that the search firm needed to have bilingual staff.“What really set them apart for me was their associates network,” Robbins said of the firm, which is headed up by Gary L. Ray. “These people are really knowledgeable about education, and they can reach out to superintendents they know are doing a really good job and say, ‘Why don’t you apply for this job in Fort Worth?’“They are active recruiters,” Robbins said. “They don’t rely strictly on advertising and other traditional means, and it’s that active recruitment that makes such a big difference.”Ray and his staff have been involved in past superintendent searches for Texas school boards, from Galveston to El Paso and Fort Worth, Ray said Friday. Ray’s staff is trying to plan an initial meeting with the board to discuss a timeline, projected salary, community forums and a superintendent’s profile, he said.Searches for school executives have changed dramatically over the last three decades, Ray said.“It’s a little bit more rigorous,” Ray said. “The overall pool of candidates on a national basis is probably not as large as it once was … to be a superintendent in a large district, an urban district, it’s a challenging job. No doubt, there are lots of moving parts.”The company does not accept fees from job candidates, and emphasizes “objective and impartiality” as trademarks on its website.Some board members, including Cinto Ramos and Ann Sutherland, said the big attraction was that Ray’s company has bilingual staff able to talk to district parents. The board hopes to conduct several community forums in September to obtain feedback from parents, community groups and others. More than 60 percent of the district’s 83,000 students are Hispanic. Paz, who interviewed for the superintendent’s job in Fort Worth in 1994 and the Arlington district in 1997, can help the district better capture the needs of its growing Hispanic community, Ramos said.Early this year, the district released a timeline that showed a superintendent finalist could be announced as early as Dec. 9 and a final board vote for the top candidate as early as Jan. 13.Interim Superindent Pat Linares said Friday that the next step for the board is to meet with Ray’s staff to develop a profile with the characteristics of a good superintendent.In October and November, the timeline calls for interviewing top candidates and visiting the candidates’ school districts, she said.Dec. 9 would be the day the public learns the name of the new superintendent. A contract would be finalized by January. By law, the board must wait 21 days from the date it announces a top candidate before it finalizes a contract.Linares, 57, was named interim superintendent in mid-June after Superintendent Walter Dansby resigned June 2. Linares, a former Fort Worth deputy superintendent who retired in 2010, is being paid $150,000 under a six-month contract approved by the board. The contract expires in mid-December, and Linares has said she is not interested in the permanent job.
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705 Twitter: @yberard