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ReNEW Schools board set to hire Kevin Guitterrez as CEO at meeting tonight

Update: The ReNEW board voted unanimously to hire Kevin Guitterrez.

The nonprofit board that runs ReNEW Schools is poised to hire Kevin Guitterrez as its CEO tonight after interviewing three finalists in private, likely violating the state Open Meetings Law.

Four board members interviewed the candidates at meetings that were not announced to the public, board chairman Stephen Rosenthal said.

Those meetings should have been announced and open to the public, according to state law and an opinion from the state Attorney General’s Office.

The first public mention of the CEO search since December was when the agenda for tonight’s meeting was released Wednesday. It contains this item: “Board vote appointing next CEO.”

Rosenthal took charge of the board’s role in the search for a new leader of the six-school charter network. An outside firm, Bellwether Education Partners, conducted the search. Grants covered its $75,000 fee.

Rosenthal said Thursday that he asked board members Kathy Conklin, Sandra Cahill and Noah Hardie to help him interview three finalists. Maggie Runyan-Shefa, co-CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, and Bellwether representatives were also present, he said.

They interviewed Andrea Zayas, Jack Elsey and Guitterrez in two separate meetings. Guitterrez is now president of ReNEW. Zayas is a local consultant with charter management experience. Elsey is the chief schools officer for the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, a state-run turnaround system similar to the Recovery School District.

Rosenthal said the group did not vote on the candidates, but they reached a “consensus” to move Guitterrez and Elsey forward in the selection process. Both met with school leaders and staff. Elsey later withdrew.

Rosenthal said he didn’t consider the group an actual committee. But the agenda refers to the “CEO Search Committee,” and even informal committees are considered “public bodies” subject to the Open Meetings Law if they advise the board on matters under its authority.

The Louisiana Attorney General’s Office has also weighed in on the matter. In a similar situation in 2009, an assistant attorney general concluded that an ad hoc committee of St. Tammany Parish council members, created by the chairman, was subject to the Open Meetings Law.

The assistant attorney general said the committee should have provided notice of its meetings.

Actions taken at meetings that don’t follow the Open Meetings Law — for instance, those that take place without proper public notice, like the ReNEW search committee — can be challenged. A lawsuit must be filed within 60 days of the action.

Although such committees fall under the Open Meetings Law, the public can be kicked out when the committee discusses candidates or interviews them. Those closed-door meetings, called executive sessions, are allowed under certain conditions.

The ReNEW board plans to meet in executive session tonight if they want to discuss Guitterrez’s hiring, according to the agenda. (They didn’t end up doing so.) Rosenthal cited an exemption to the Open Meetings Law that allows for private discussions of someone’s “character, professional competence, or physical or mental health.”

But those talks don’t have to occur behind behind closed doors. In 2012, New Beginnings Schools Foundation interviewed both of its CEO finalists in a public meeting.

When Orleans schools Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. was applying for his job, the district held public question-and-answer sessions with finalists.

And regardless of whether the interviews happen in public, the resumes, applications and cover letters of applicants for charter school jobs are public records, according to a 2014 Attorney General’s Office opinion.

ReNEW’s board last met Dec. 8, when Rosenthal briefly updated them on the progress of the CEO search. The February board meeting was cancelled because a tornado had struck ReNEW Schaumburg Elementary in eastern New Orleans days before.

The board meets at the ReNEW McNair campus at 1607 S. Carrollton Ave. at 5:30 p.m.

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