SMMUSD HDQTRS — With Superintendent Tim Cuneo retiring in June, members of the school board moved forward with selecting his replacement on Monday by interviewing representatives from three executive search firms that are vying to help the board make its pick.

While no formal action was taken, members indicated they were strongly leaning toward Leadership Associates — a firm that employs Mike Escalante, a former Santa Monica High School vice principal and former superintendent of the Glendale Unified School District.

School board member Oscar de la Torre said Escalante’s involvement in the search would be a benefit for the district because of his familiarity with local expectations.

“He understands that the community expects engagement and ample opportunity for public input on this decision,” de la Torre said.

The board is set to formally hire a firm at its next meeting on Jan. 13.

Ben Allen, the board’s newly appointed vice chair, agreed that Escalante’s roots in the district were an important aspect of his firm’s pitch.

“I think having that local experience was a positive factor,” Allen said.

Leadership Associates’ fee is $28,500. The other two finalists for the contract with the district were Dave Long & Associates and Proact Search, an Illinois-based firm that was the only out-of-state finalist.

Allen said California’s unique education financing laws made going with an in-state firm more attractive to members of the board.

“We want to look really broadly, but I think we also want to have a firm that knows the California superintendent landscape really well,” he said.

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