BERKELEY -- A headhunting firm is looking for a new superintendent for the 9,000-student Berkeley Unified School District following a previous search last year that ended with the final candidate withdrawing because a memo surfaced showing his dislike for gay marriage.
The district has scheduled a series of community meetings in February and March for input on what kind of person it should hire. The board hopes to interview final candidates in late March.
The meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at Malcolm X Elementary, 1731 Prince St.; 7 p.m. Friday, March 1 at King Middle, 1781 Rose St. for Spanish speakers; and 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 2 at the school district administration building, 2020 Bonar St. in Room 126.
The school district has been without a permanent superintendent since Bill Huyett retired in June. When he announced his retirement over a year ago, the school board hired a search firm and paid it $30,000 to find candidates.
The board settled on Edmond Heatley, then superintendent of Clayton County Public Schools near Atlanta. But before the contract was signed, a 2008 document he authored while superintendent of Chino Valley Unified School District in Southern California urging his school board to take a stand against same-sex marriage surfaced in Berkeley.
The news put Berkeley teachers and parents in an uproar and Heatley withdrew.
Since then, Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith and Deputy Superintendent Javetta Cleveland have been co-managing the district until a new superintendent is found.
Now the school board has hired Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, at a cost of $35,000 to find new candidates.
During a school board meeting last week with members of the headhunting firm, school board members expressed concern that bad publicity from the previous search could discourage good candidates from applying. They also emphasized that candidates' backgrounds be thoroughly researched.
"Not only were we not successful in our last search, but there was a huge public outcry, and I'm wondering what candidates will think about that," said board member Judy Appel who was elected in November.
Anita Johnson, a representative from Ray and Associates, told the board some candidates would indeed be "leery," but that the Berkeley school district is a "beautiful apple on a tree and a lot of people would see it as an honor to serve in Berkeley."
Board member Karen Hemphill told representatives of the search firm she was concerned with the "vetting process and background checks."
"We don't want any surprises," Hemphill said.
Ricardo Medina, another representative of the firm at the meeting, assured the board that "if they have baggage, we'll say we don't recommend the candidate."
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.