Superintendent Search & Conflict of Interest
Dr. Horton Moonlighting with Superintendent Search Firm; Recruits Away Top District 65 Employee while still on the District Payroll
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Over in District 308 (Oswego, Illinois) they’ve been searching for a new superintendent. On February 1, 2023 they held a board meeting to hear presentations from superintendent search firms. One of those firms, School Exec Connect, was represented by District 65 Superintendent, Dr. Horton. You can view the slides and even hear the audio at this link.
District 308 hired School Exec Connect for $21,500.
Dr. Horton presented again to D308 on May 8, 2023 to discuss the results of a survey conducted by School Exec Connect.
On June 14, 2023 D308 announced that Dr. Andalib Khelghati would be their new superintendent. Dr. Khelghati is currently the District 65 Interim Superintendent of Human Resources. According to sources I’ve spoken with, he was also a finalist for the District 65 Interim Superintendent position.
Dr. Horton was likely compensated for his role with School Exec Connect1, however I cannot verify this. Neither School Exec Connect nor Dr. Horton replied to my requests for comment. However, I can prove that superintendents have been paid by School Exec Connect for this type of work. When District 102 (Lagrange, Illionis) hired School Exec Connect, they worked with District 101 (Western Springs, Illinois) Superintendent Brian Barnhart, who claimed he made more than $7,500 for the work.
During this entire period Dr. Horton was the active District 65 Superintendent and remains so through June 30.
Dr. Horton’s Contract
In the corporate world, it is relatively common to see contracts that have “non-solicitation” clauses them. I’ve had these in my own contracts. They generally prohibit the contracted employee from recruiting away employees. I wanted to see if such a clause existed in Dr. Horton’s contract.
First, there is no such non-solicitation clause.
Second, this type of consulting appears to be prohibited by his contract, which does permit outside work conditional that the work being “writing, teaching, and speaking engagements" and requiring approval from the Board President. I reached out to the District for comment, who did not return my emails.
If this was a business and an exiting CEO was paid by a third party to recruit away a top employee to another firm, the Board would have grounds to sue.
On April 19, 2023, Dr. Horton wrote to District parents;
I remain fully invested in District 65 and my energies are in support of our school board and leadership team to help ensure stability and a smooth transition.
Even if the contract permitted it, I find this to be an egregious ethical lapse and contradictory to his own words. When a public body appoints an executive, that person is being hired to act on behalf of the public. Working for a third party to recruit away staff while still acting on behalf of the public is the opposite of that. It is a textbook conflict of interest.
Superintendent Search Industrial Complex
These types of search firms are common. Consider School Exec Connect - according to ISBE records, they worked with 8 Districts in School Year 2022 alone.
There is an entire cottage industry of search firms like School Exec Connect. In 2022, Illinois School Districts spent almost $500,000 on four of these firms alone.
Hazard Young Attea and Associates - $209,661 in revenue over 9 Illinois Districts in 2022.
Ray and Associates - $21,649 in revenue over 2 Illinois Districts in 2022.
Note that all the firms have “and Associates” in the name. Those associates are mostly active or retired superintendents working on the side to do “networking". The average search firm costs a District around $15,000-$20,000 per search.3
It’s hard not to look at this and see an old boys club helping politically connected friends on behalf of Illinois’ children. For a District as interested in equity as we are, I can’t imagine we condone such systems. Closed network recruiting systems are classic gatekeepers when it comes to hiring, even one of the top anti-racist recruiting tips is to “ditch referral based hiring.” Perhaps those rules don’t apply to the powerful and well-connected.
Superintendent Still Owes $25,000
The Evanston Roundtable reported on April 25, 2023 that Dr. Horton owes $25,000 to the District for terminating his contract early. You can verify this yourself by reading his contract. I reached out to the District regarding this and they got back to me a few days ago;
Discussion is currently underway between the Board and Dr. Horton and details regarding payment terms are expected to be finalized by next week.
I will continue to follow this story closely.
He has been doing this work for 2-3 years according to his own presentation’s audio.
I should add that it is annoying that I had to FOIA this, most school Districts in Illinois publish the Superintendent’s contract in their board minutes. This includes District 308 mentioned above, which has already published Dr. Kheleghati’s contract.
Perhaps this is the motivation for the $25,000 fine for terminating his contract early.