Willson School File

The Bozeman Public Schools administrative offices are held at Willson School, photographed on Feb. 9.

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The Bozeman School Board selected a consulting firm to lead a nationwide search for its next superintendent.

The firm will facilitate board and community feedback sessions to build a leadership profile to recruit a pool of candidates. From there it will conduct background checks and interviews of both the candidates and people they’ve worked with before sending videos of the top candidates to the school board.

Ray and Associates has conducted a handful of searches in Montana, including recruiting previous Bozeman School District Superintendent Rob Watson to the Missoula School District.

The costs Ray and Associates and the second finalist firm that presented, Hazard, Young and Attea, were similar, with HYA’s base consulting fee slightly higher at $20,000 plus expenses and other costs. Ray and Associates’ base fee was $16,500, and the firm estimated the total cost for the district would be $20,000.

In a presentation to the board, Anne Schultz, an associate with the Ray and Associates, said they average 40-50 candidates to a superintendent position, largely because they’re involved in actively recruiting.

The firm will help the district develop a leadership profile through individual board member interviews, an online survey to community members, and in-person or virtual focus group meetings with community and civic leaders or other groups identified by the board as key stakeholders, Schultz said.

Many of the trustees stressed the importance of a comprehensive background check and reference interview process.

“One thing that is important to me is that background piece and how deep they dive and how they communicate that information to us,” Trustee Greg Neil said during the board discussion.

Trustee Gary Lusin asked how the firm checked and verified the candidates’ background to see if there were any problems from a past job.

During its candidate selection process, the firm does its own background investigations, including interviews with former board members and former employees. It also contracts with an outside firm to conduct criminal, civil litigation, social security, sex offender, motor vehicle record checks for the top two to three candidates.

In a question reminiscent of the board’s contract termination for former superintendent Bob Connors earlier this year, Lusin asked if the firm’s two-year guarantee meant “if for some reason, the superintendent after a year ends up not being a fit and the board has to dismiss the individual, do you cover the contract pay out to that superintendent?”

Schultz said the firm’s two-year guarantee won’t pay out a superintendent’s contract but the firm would conduct another search within those two years with the district covering the cost of expenses for the associates. The firm also has a guarantee it won’t recruit the superintendent it helped place for five years.

During board discussion, trustees Tanya Reinhardt, Lei-Anna Bertelsen, Kevin Black, Douglas Fischer and chair Sandy Wilson, said both firms looked like good picks, they were leaning toward Ray and Associates.

Bertelsen said she appreciated their focus on diversity, inclusion and equity work and she felt they had done their research to understand the Bozeman School District.

Reinhardt said what sealed the deal for her was when they “talked about how to find a leader that will ultimately create the best environment to educate students.”

Trustees Lusin and Lisa Weaver were initially leaning toward Hazard, Young and Attea but felt both were good options. Weaver said she felt HYA would provide more personalized attention.

Pat Strauss, human resource director with the district, said once the board selects a firm, the process begins to speed up, with special board meetings likely necessary in the near future.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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