The Columbus school board on May 22 took another step toward resuming its superintendent search, signing a contract with independent outside legal counsel and agreeing to a framework for hiring a new search firm.
The board signed a deal with Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, a law firm with offices in Columbus and nine other cities.
The firm will "advise and represent the board on all matters associated with the search," including "addressing any and all outstanding issues with the current search firm," compliance with laws governing meetings and records and identifying, selecting and signing a superintendent.
The firm will communicate "with the board as a whole," or with a subcommittee of the board, if the board so instructs.
Taft will be paid $300 an hour for representation by attorneys who are partners and $250 an hour for associates. The board approved an appropriation capping Taft's payments at $30,000.
The board also approved sending out a request for proposals to various search firms to assist in the new search, including screening candidates, recruiting and negotiations.
The headhunters must work with the Taft team assigned to the search: Janica Pierce Tucker, Rita McNeil Danish and Carolyn Davis. That is to ensure all state open-meeting laws are followed and that the firm maintains "complete documentation about the search and selection process," which will be turned over to the district at the end of the process.
The timeline now calls for national recruiting for a new superintendent to begin June 19.
All responses from prospective search firms will be sent to the Educational Service Center of Central Ohio, which the board contracts with under state law for auxiliary services. The service center has volunteered its services pro bono to help the board with the search-firm-hiring process.
The new search was launched after state Auditor Dave Yost informed the board in March that all its actions taken during a previous superintendent search last fall and spring were void as a matter of law, and members could be held personally liable, along with the district, for any financial losses incurred -- specifically paying the salary of a superintendent hired based on the past search.
The Columbus Dispatch revealed and Yost confirmed that the board had met in private sessions and had taken what were akin to votes and/or made official decisions about whom to interview. Ohio's Open Meetings Act requires votes and decisions to be made during public meetings.
They can be closed only for certain limited discussions before taking a vote in public.
The legal remedy for a violation of the Open Meetings Act is to scrap everything and start over, or risk personal liability.
When Yost brought the process to a halt, a divided board appeared set on hiring acting Superintendent John Stanford to become the permanent superintendent.
Three of the seven members opposed Stanford, whose mentor was Gene Harris, a former Columbus superintendent. She was convicted of dereliction of duty for not preventing her staff from carrying out a massive data-rigging operation.