Maryland's largest school district paid an out-of-state consulting firm tens of thousands of dollars to conduct a nationwide search for its next superintendent. They didn't have to search far—the district wound up sticking with its interim superintendent, Monifa McKnight.
The Montgomery County School Board approved a contract with the Illinois-based education consulting firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates in August. The firm billed the district $52,500 plus travel expenses to find the county's next superintendent, but this week the board unanimously elected to give the post to McKnight. McKnight has been the county's superintendent since last spring and will receive an annual salary of more than $300,000.
This isn't the first time Montgomery County has thrown money at the consultancy for an unnecessary search. In 2015, the county paid Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates $35,000 to conduct a search. The board then appointed Jack Smith, who, like McKnight, was already the county's interim superintendent at the time.
During Smith's tenure as superintendent, he handpicked McKnight to be his deputy superintendent. Smith abruptly left the post in November to join Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates, and McKnight was chosen as interim superintendent. The firm said Smith had no role in McKnight's selection.
The circular nature of the hiring process has outraged locals, who say the county wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars that could have been better spent in schools.
"Let me clarify further why this bothers me," said Dawn Iannaco-Hahn, a Montgomery County parent who said she knew McKnight would ultimately be selected. "Little effort was put into the sup[erintendent] search, yet $ was spent; $ that should've gone towards MH resources & supports."
"Another mistake in a long line by [Montgomery County] resting on their laurels," Maryland resident David Wagner tweeted. "The decision was made a year ago. The charade was just a waste of time and money to make people think they have a chance."
McKnight was a controversial pick—just weeks ago, 94 percent of the almost 7,000 Montgomery County Education Association members said they had no confidence in her ability as interim superintendent. "MCPS leadership has consistently shown a dereliction of duty and a lack of competence," the association said in a statement. "We demand immediate action to address our concerns."
Under McKnight's guidance, the county has pushed an antiracist audit, imposed harsh school lockdowns, quarantine procedures, and mask mandates. The school district also suffered its first school shooting in history last month, an incident that some say could have been avoided if the district didn't remove police officers from school buildings.
McKnight has not addressed if the county will reimplement police presence in schools permanently. Although the county announced it would only add police presence to schools for the week following the Jan. 21 school shooting, a spokesman for the school confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon that police would be in schools indefinitely.
Just before her appointment, McKnight issued an update on the county's $450,000 antiracist audit, which she promoted as deputy superintendent in November 2020. In a school board meeting at the time, McKnight said police brutality against black people spurred the need for a comprehensive, county-wide review to ensure antiracist curriculum.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates has a reputation for botching superintendent picks—in the past, it has recommended candidates with histories of sexual assault and corruption. In 2015, the firm recommended former Massachusetts superintendent Sergio Páez for a Minneapolis superintendent post, but failed to disclose the history of child abuse in Páez's former district. In 2017, Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates president and former superintendent Glenn McGee resigned from the Palo Alto Unified School District after he mishandled a student sexual assault case.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates deferred press inquiries to the Montgomery County Public School District, which declined to comment.
On Tuesday, Frederick County Public Schools—the county neighboring Montgomery County—announced it would hire the same firm to conduct its superintendent search. The board of education will pay the firm $35,000, plus travel and advertising expenses.