School board approves $25,000 contract with Ray and Associates to find next Shawnee Mission superintendent

Brenda Dietrich will help lead the search for Shawnee Mission's next superintendent for Ray and Associates.
Brenda Dietrich will help lead the search for Shawnee Mission’s next superintendent for Ray and Associates.

The Shawnee Mission School Board on Monday officially approved a $25,000 contract with Ray and Associates to lead the search to find the district’s next full-service superintendent.

Ray and Associates was the consensus choice among the five board members present when the three finalists for the contract made their in-person presentations two weeks ago. The firm had faced considerable skepticism among candidates for the board of education as well as a good deal of district patrons heading into the selection process given its role in leading the process that led to the hiring of the departed Jim Hinson. But Ray and Associates’ strong performance at the board presentation Aug. 12 appeared to convince a number of skeptics that it was the firm best prepared to lead the next search.

On Monday, former Washburn School District Superintendent Brenda Dietrich and current Guadalupe Centers Schools interim superintendent Ralph Teran, who will be among the key personnel to lead the Ray and Associates process for Shawnee Mission, appeared before the board to thank them for the selection and to request a meeting to kick the process off and set a timeline for milestones.

“We’re used to working with communities and with boards that have very high expectations,” said Dietrich, who is also a sitting member of the Kansas House of Representatives. “We expect you to hold our feet to the fire to do the best job we possible can.”

While the board voted unanimously to approve the contract with Ray and Associates, at-large board candidate Heather Ousley used the open forum portion of the meeting to highlight concerns she’d raised previously about the firm’s recent performance for other clients. Ousley said that there have been a handful of instances in the year’s between the time the district hired Hinson and today in which Ray and Associates had brought unqualified or compromised candidates before client districts. In one instance, Ray and Associates put forward a semi-finalist who turned out not to have the qualifications the district required for its superintendent. In another, a finalist candidate had disclosed a personal bankruptcy to Ray and Associates, but the company had not communicated that information to the school board vetting him for the job.

“It seems that one of the common threads in the cases is that the full vetting, the full background check screening, is not conducted until the pool is narrowed to three,” Ousley said. “No matter who is sitting on the board next year when the decision is made, I think it’s really imperative that we make sure the final pool has been fully background checked and the board has access to the information that’s available to find.”