The St. Paul school board is looking to hire an Iowa firm with a few blemishes in its past to assist the district in its search for a new superintendent.

Ray and Associates, of Cedar Rapids, was selected from among three consulting groups interviewed by the school board during a public meeting this week.

Board Chairman Jon Schumacher said that the district now is working to finalize a deal with the firm. Key to the talks will be to determine how well Ray and Associates understands and can support an extensive community engagement process envisioned for the St. Paul search.

In choosing Ray and Associates, board members said that they were impressed by the firm's national experience and its focus on finding urban school executives. Gary Ray, the firm's president, said that it currently was working to find nine or 10 district leaders.

The board also liked the fact that Craig Morris, a product of St. Paul Public Schools and the state's first black mayor, would be part of the team leading the search.

Not all of Ray and Associates' searches have gone smoothly, however.

In February, the school board in Houston, Texas, voted to replace the firm after several trustees expressed concern that Ray and Associates did not plan to allow enough time for community input in that district's search for a new superintendent, and after Internet searches revealed a troubled search in Kentucky in 2007, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Ray referred to the Kentucky controversy when asked during this week's school board interview whether Ray and Associates had been involved in any lawsuits related to its searches. He said that the Kentucky search involved a state post, and that there had been no legal action involving a district-level search.

In the Kentucky case, Ray and Associates filed suit to collect final payment for its work to help find a new state education commissioner who had resigned amid controversy over errors on her resume and criticism of her leadership in previous jobs, the Associated Press reported.

Ray and Associates was criticized then for an alleged lack of thoroughness in its screening of candidates. The firm countered that it had performed the services required under its contract.

In endorsing Ray and Associates, the St. Paul board bypassed a Minnesota firm, School Exec Connect. It has completed more than 50 searches in the state, and has worked elsewhere, too.

"We are a national firm located in Minnesota," Ken Dragseth, the firm's president, told the board.