By Doug Page

Massachusetts Board of Education (BOE) Chairman Paul Sagan was lightly chided at last month’s meeting for hiring an executive search firm to help find the state’s new commissioner of education.

“It surprises me that [the BOE’s] search committee wasn’t consulted or had input into this, especially when other board members didn’t, either. I hope we can improve on that going forward,” member Mary Ann Stewart said.

Stewart, the board’s parent representative, said she was worried Sagan was moving too fast by hiring Los Angeles-based search firm Korn Ferry, and that the board wasn’t being adequately consulted. The BOE is charged with finding a new head of Massachusetts education in the wake of the death of Mitchell Chester, the previous chair of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), which is in charge of the state’s K-12 public schools.

“I’m really sorry that’s your impression,” Sagan replied. “I couldn’t agree with you more that we need to — and will — take as much time as possible. As you recall, we waited several months after Mitchell’s passing, because it was summer, to have a meeting. We didn’t go out with a RFP until after that [August] meeting.”

The BOE first discussed Chester’s successor on Aug. 15, a little less than two months after the commissioner’s death. It was at that meeting, Sagan told Stewart, that they agreed to hire an executive search firm.

Sagan was particularly excited about Rosa Morris, a Korn Ferry executive, leading the charge to find the new commissioner, noting she was a former public school teacher. According to her LinkedIn profile, Morris worked as an elementary school teacher for Atlanta Public Schools for two years.

Sagan said he hopes to have Chester’s replacement named before the end of the current school year. Jeff Wulfson, a longtime DESE employee, is leading the department as acting commissioner.

DESE Spokeswoman Jacqueline Reis said the department agreed to pay Korn Ferry “one-third of the first-year salary of the next commissioner,” which is $65,000, plus a flat administrative fee of $5,000 and travel expenses, which she described as costs associated with bringing finalists to the BOE for an interview.