FORT WORTH -- School trustees took the first step toward finding a new superintendent Tuesday night by hiring a Houston-based firm to conduct a search.
Thompson & Horton will be paid about $56,000.
The firm includes former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige and former Texas Education Commissioner Mike Moses. The school district is also working with Thompson & Horton's law firm on redistricting issues.
"The team that they have, I don't think they can be beat," Trustee Tobi Jackson said.
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Trustees interviewed two other bidders Tuesday night -- Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates of the Chicago area and the Austin-based Texas Association of School Boards. Hazard proposed various prices depending on services ranging from $47,000 plus expenses to $60,500. TASB's bid totaled $68,010.
But trustees said price had little to do with their decision. They said they wanted to ensure that they hired the firm that would attract the best person possible to lead the 83,000-student district.
Hiring the next superintendent "is the most important decision that we make," board President Ray Dickerson said.
Trustee Norm Robbins noted that Thompson & Horton had a history of placing quality superintendents in diverse districts. Districts it has worked with include Cypress-Fairbanks and Northside in the San Antonio area.
In their questioning, trustees indicated that they wanted a firm that was going to be aggressive in recruiting the most qualified person. They asked about how firms would reach out to diverse candidates and wanted assurances that no one was pushing a pre-determined candidate.
Other major urban districts are also looking for new superintendents, including Dallas, Little Rock, Seattle and Philadelphia. Trustees asked how the firms would present the Fort Worth district, which has been troubled by infighting among board members.
Julian Trevino, a former San Antonio school board president working with Thompson & Horton, said "five-star" candidates will do their research and be aware of the politics of the board.
"But they will also be sophisticated," he said. "They won't shy away from this. We've all been through this. Boards are always in transition."
Moses, a former Dallas superintendent and a finalist for Fort Worth superintendent in 1994, also assured the board that candidates will be attracted to the area because it's a major urban district but is also seen as progressive and a desirable city in which to live.
All three groups noted that the board can unify in the superintendent search as they work to identify what they want for the district as a whole.
Moses also said Fort Worth is already ahead of Dallas, which has not yet selected a search firm.
Dickerson said he hoped to announce a finalist in March.
Melody Johnson resigned in May after nearly six years leading the district.
Trustees also hinted at what they were looking for in the next superintendent. Dickerson said he thought the ideal candidate would come from Texas and be familiar with the state's accountability system, laws and complex school finance issues. Trustee Carlos Vasquez wanted to make sure that firms would handle internal candidates fairly. He has supported giving the job to interim Superintendent Walter Dansby. Overall, trustees indicated that they wanted a superintendent who could work with a diverse student population, many of whom come from poor families.
Eva-Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700