Joe Gothard begins work next month as superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools — a job for which his school board bosses have agreed to pay him $232,000 annually.
But the search for the new schools chief was not nearly as kind to Orlando Ramos, one of three original finalists to lead the state’s second-largest district.
Ramos, a regional superintendent for the Milwaukee Public Schools, was a candidate this spring for top schools jobs in St. Paul and Detroit, Mich., and dropped the Detroit bid to interview in St. Paul. But he never made it to Minnesota, having abandoned his candidacy after the Star Tribune reported he had a bankruptcy filing in his recent past.
“I certainly would have liked to have known that,” St. Paul school board Chairman Jon Schumacher told the newspaper a few hours before Ramos withdrew.
Turns out there was little reason for the school board not to know. Ramos had, in fact, revealed the bankruptcy earlier to a consultant for the search firm Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa — the firm hired last fall by the district to aid in the search at a cost of $30,000 plus expenses.
Kaohly Her, then the school board’s administrator, said that the search firm consultant worked with Ramos in connection with openings in two districts. The consultant alerted one district to the bankruptcy, she said, but neglected to tell St. Paul. “Unfortunately, miscommunication led to the information not being shared with SPPS,” Her wrote in an e-mail recently.
Her referred to the breakdown while responding to a series of questions seeking to unravel how the firm could have failed to uncover the bankruptcy.
In November, when Ray and Associates was one of three companies seeking to land the St. Paul contract, president Gary Ray emphasized going beyond a candidate’s references to check blogs and other sources to eliminate surprises.
“There won’t be any embarrassment from our side of the table,” Ray told board members.
Her said board members also “made it clear ... that they did not want any surprises.” But the board also accepted a recommendation from Ray and Associates to not conduct a more thorough vetting of its prospective leader until the race was down to a single candidate.
In its contract proposal, Ray and Associates wrote that it could “conduct credit, criminal, financial, civil litigation, motor vehicle record checks and verify educational degrees on the top candidate(s) through an outside service for an additional fee” — a fee that turned out to be about $350. The district decided, instead, to have its human resources staff conduct the more detailed background check, but again, not until there was just one finalist.
After Ramos dropped out and Gothard was chosen, the school board and the search firm agreed to reduce Ray and Associates’ contracted fee from $30,000 to $25,000. In addition, Ray and Associates agreed to cover Ramos’ travel costs.