Pine Bluff school board considers next step in superintendent search

McPherson & Jacobson LLC consultant Kieth Williams revealed to the Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors ON Thursday night that he had been involved in intense negotiations — as the contact person for the executive search firm — last spring with former board president Herman Horace to find a replacement superintendent to take the place of Jerry Payne, who was being forced out by the board.

Williams provided the information in answer to a question from board member Harold Jackson at the special called meeting convened so that the board could hear a presentation from Williams outlining the ways that M & J can assist the district in conducting a superintendent search that was approved by the board at its Dec. 18 regular meeting.

“What do you do if a superintendent does not work out?,” Jackson asked Williams.

“I think I know where you are going with this,” Williams answered as Jackson nodded. “I worked extremely hard last spring in trying to find a replacement [for Payne] and had no success in working with the former board president. I was very diligent in trying to work out a solution but we did not have much success. The board president ultimately said that McPherson & Jacobson had fulfilled its obligations to the school district and apparently he advised the board to go a different route.”

The board voted to hire former Little Rock School District superintendent Linda Watson as interim superintendent at a May 31 special called meeting, effective June 4.

“This is the first I’ve heard of this,” said Jackson, who along with board vice president Ken Dickson is one of the two current board members who sat on the previous school board.

“I spoke with our CEO Dr. [Thomas] Jacobson and he said that our warranty on the superintendent was good through June 30, 2012,” Williams said. “We suggested several options to the former board president prior to that date but we had no success.”

Jackson queried Williams on the depth of the background checks that M & J conducts on job applicants.

“How far back do you go in your background checks?” Jackson asked.

“I go as far back in an applicant’s career as I can and ask as many people as I can about the candidate’s reputation and performance,” Williams said.

During the months of conflict between the former school board and Payne leading up to his firing at a May 29 employment hearing, board members learned that the he had been involved in disputes with the board of the Bogalusa, La., school district where he was superintendent in 2005.

“The last thing we will do is bring on someone who will embarrass you,” Williams said at one point, eliciting raised eyebrows from several board members.

An attempt to reach Horace by phone Friday afternoon was unsuccessful.

The board voted Thursday to delay making a decision on how to proceed with M & J until the Jan. 15 regular board meeting.