Pressure builds to restart Mpls. school boss search

The biggest question in Minneapolis politics these days is, “What didn’t the Minneapolis School Board know and when didn’t it know it?”

It’s hard to imagine a more disastrous outcome to the search for a school superintendent than the one that was — or wasn’t — conducted before the board selected Sergio Paez as the new school chief, bypassing the interim superintendent Michael Goar.

The search took 10 months, and in that time nobody, apparently, learned anything about allegations that special needs students in Holyoke, Mass. — Paez’s old district — had been illegally restrained and thrown into walls and onto floors.

In announcing that the Minneapolis school board would investigate the allegations it should have uncovered earlier, the department issued a news release headlined, “Minneapolis Board of Education continues due diligence,” a classic public-relations attempt to put lipstick on a pig.

It was only after Paez was selected that two members of the board intended to go to his former district and learn more about him. That nugget raised plenty of eyebrows about the selection process, as well it should have.

In its editorial today calling for the district to start over again, the Star Tribune describes a tainted search for an important position.

That series of events casts a shadow on Minneapolis school leaders, because they announced Paez as their pick and then said they’d do a site visit in Holyoke before finalizing his contract. Last week, the Star Tribune Editorial Board asked why that visit wasn’t done before the announcement.

“I am just thankful that we are doing our due diligence and doing a site visit,” said Carla Bates, one of three school board members who did not vote for Paez. Six members supported his hiring. Contract talks have been suspended until two board members return from their site visit to Holyoke and report back to the full board on Jan. 12.

No one should prejudge the outcome of the criminal investigation. It’s possible that nothing will come of the probe or the review by Massachusetts education officials. Nonetheless, the process that led to the selection of Paez is tainted. It’s especially troubling that neither Paez nor the search firm hired by the district — Hazard, Young Attea and Associates — informed Minneapolis officials about the abuse allegations.

The Minneapolis School District is struggling to address the achievement gap and enrollment challenges. It needs a strong and credible leader who can rally students, parents, teachers and administrators as well as rebuild faith in the city’s critically important public schools. And that leader must emerge from a hiring process that is above reproach.

Last week, pressure to restart the process intensified after a petition was circulated questioning the process, and declaring that all of the finalists were poor choices.

All of this comes even though HYA, the executive search firm hired to find the school chief, assured authorities that all of the candidates had been rigorously vetted.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe, which has spearheaded the story, says Paez struggled to explain inconsistencies in his story, while members of the school board refused to talk to the paper to explain what they didn’t see and why they didn’t see it.