Pig in a poke

The DISD board doesn't do its homework before offering San Franciscan Bill Rojas the top job

The next day the board announced it was offering him the job. John Dodd, the lame-duck DISD board member, says Rojas told them that the only way he would even consider Dallas was if he were the only finalist.

Linus Wright, a former DISD superintendent and a consultant who helped the board in previous searches for a leader, says prospective hires often make such demands. "Generally, boards turn down such applications," he says. Not the DISD board, which these days is looking more and more like a boy with a rented tux and his dad's Buick but still no date on prom night.

The board is paying the executive search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates Ltd. $35,000 plus expenses to help locate a superintendent. Dodd claims it's getting little for its money.

"They are overpaid and overworked," he says.
The firm also is helping hire superintendents in three large Maryland counties, including Prince George's, an urban district with many of the same requirements as DISD.

Dodd blames Bill Attea, the partner at Hazard, Young handling DISD matters, for the board's initial ignorance about Rojas' scuffles with the cops.

"He knew we were bringing down Rojas on Monday," says Dodd about Attea. "That gave him four days to do a preliminary search. All he had to do was check the Internet."

Attea says that Dodd "is not representing the facts correctly." Attea says his firm didn't do a preliminary background check on Rojas before the board announced his selection because the San Francisco administrator had never formally filed an application--which would have given the consultants permission to investigate his background. His firm has 40 consultants working on searches at any given time, Attea says, and it's capable of handling up to 40 such projects at a time. At the moment, his firm is actively looking for fewer than 15 top school administrators.

Attea doesn't want to get into a squabble with the DISD board. He notes that only one board member, Dodd, has publicly griped.

"I work for the board," Attea says. "I don't work for individual members." Although he concedes the search process for DISD has appeared bumbling at times, he believes overall that the panel deserves praise. "The finding of a good superintendent is a difficult task. I commend the board for moving ahead and trying to develop a consensus."

Dodd says the search firm, which he helped select, has failed to provide resumes for candidates before the board interviews them and hasn't brought the board any serious contenders for the job. "We came up with most of them ourselves," he says.

Dodd has asked Brashear to order Attea to develop an extensive background report on Rojas.

One of the intriguing questions left blowing around somewhere near the bottom of this mess is whether Lee Jackson was ever a viable possibility. Jackson has impeccable credentials at the county. His candidacy flamed out not because of anything he did but because someone on the board torched it.

Even at the worst of that particular mess, when the minority community was trashing Jackson, an intriguing detail of the dialogue was lost in the din. The people who were most critical of Jackson's candidacy--if one listened closely--were strangely flattering when they talked about Jackson personally. At a news conference on the steps of DISD headquarters, former board member Kathlyn Gilliam and a dozen other community leaders and spokespersons complained angrily about the way Jackson's name had come into play--they thought it was a high-handed attempt by the white oligarchy to circumvent the selection process--but they all took a moment to say something a little bit nice about Jackson.

"This isn't about Mr. Jackson himself, who seems to be a nice guy and seems to have done a good job over at the county," Gilliam said before the news conference. "It's about the arrogance of certain white leaders who still think they can force their own choices on the community."

But what if it wasn't a plot? What if it was the more likely thing, DISD-wise? A big screwed-up mess? Would that mean that Jackson's name could still re-emerge? Jackson says, "I can't think of anything I can say about any of this publicly that would be appropriate." The only thing he would say was that he had never campaigned for the job or asked anyone else to campaign for him.

Parrott says, "I don't think anyone is out of the question at this point. There was nothing wrong with any of the candidates we talked to." She hinted that the board has talked to lots more people than those whose names have been made public, and that all of them, including Jackson, are theoretically still possibilities, assuming Rojas doesn't make it through the 21 days.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who speaks to Jackson frequently, says he thought there might be a difference of opinion between Jackson and the board on the issue of school vouchers. "That might be a problem," Price says.

Another board member, who spoke on condition that he not be identified, says that Jackson could still be a possibility, but that apparently Jackson, like other candidates, has said the board would have to propose a fairly strong contract before he could consider it.

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