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Thompson & Horton relationship trumps competitor qualifications in Superintendent search

In 2014, current SBISD law firm Thompson & Horton LLP was awarded a contract by the then SBISD Board of Trustees to lead the search for a new Superintendent, despite their competition being “better prepared”, “more professional”, having “a more clearly articulated process” and having broader “national reach” than Thompson & Horton, meeting minutes show.

2014 Trustees cited “trust and familiarity” with David Thompson, a Partner with Thompson & Horton, as their reason for selecting his seemingly less qualified, Texas-focused firm.

The SBISD Trustees interviewed four search firms for the engagement on November 17, 2014:

  • HYA Executive Search

  • Thompson & Horton

  • Proact Search

  • N2 learning

The Board of Trustees discussed the firms at a special meeting on November 20, 2014. Trustee Chris Vierra, then the President of the Board of Trustees, led the discussion.

According to the minutes of that meeting, HVA Executive Search and Thompson & Horton emerged as the potential finalists. The minutes state:

“Of the two firms, Board members generally agreed that HYA was better prepared, had a more professional presentation, and had a more clearly articulated process for the search. It was also understood that HYA had more of a national reach than Thompson & Horton.”

Certain board members “expressed a high degree of trust and familiarity with Mr. Thompson”, however, and this sentiment carried the decision.

The decision between HVA and Thompson & Horton did not appear to be straightforward, with certain trustees inquiring whether HYA could work alongside Thompson & Horton on the engagement, the minutes reflect. Ultimately, the board decided that a single firm would win the award.

In Ms. Vierra’s final poll of her colleagues, not all Trustees were “in favor of” Thompson & Horton winning the award. The minutes cite members that were merely “comfortable” with the decision. An official vote was held four days later, with Thompson & Horton winning the engagement.

Thompson & Horton stepped far afield of its Texas-centric relationships during the search, locating Dr. Scott Muri, Ed.D., then Deputy Superintendent of Academics at Fulton County Schools in Atlanta, GA. Dr. Muri was named sole finalist for the position on May 12, 2015, and officially hired after the 21-day waiting period required by Texas law.

Thompson & Horton had requested six months to perform the search, district records show.

Despite being only the sixth Superintendent in SBISD’s 69 year history, Dr. Muri served SBISD for only four years, falling well short of the 14 year average tenure of his predecessors. His initial 3-year contract would have expired in 2018. Save SBISD has requested information from the district whether this contract was ever extended.

In 2019, Dr. Muri was hired by the Ector Independent School District (EISD) in Odessa, Texas. The President of the EISD Board of Trustees described Dr. Muri’s transition as a “lateral move” in his public comments, on more than one occasion.

The composition of the Spring Branch ISD Board of Trustees had changed by 2019, and the 2019 Board moved far more quickly and without material involvement from Thompson & Horton in selecting Dr. Muri’s replacement from within the district. Dr. Muri's replacement was selected in an efficient one-month process.

Thompson & Horton has been advising Spring Branch ISD since at least 2008, as far back as public records are readily available online. Thompson & Horton’s involvement with district predates the tenure of every member of the current Board of Trustees.

Chris Vierra did not seek re-election to the Board of Trustees in 2021. Ms. Vierra endorsed Virginia Elizondo who was seeking election to her former Position 4 seat.

Ms. Elizondo was not elected to the Board of Trustees and is currently suing the district and its Trustees in federal court, seeking a change to the SBISD election process.

Ms. Elizondo is represented in her suit by Barry Abrams, a Partner at Blank Rome LLP. Privately, Mr. Abrams serves as Co-Chairman of the Endowment Committee for the Spring Branch Education Foundation (SBEF), and is a long-time member of its Board.

Thompson & Horton is a large financial contributor to SBEF. Janet Horton, also a Partner at Thompson & Horton, serves alongside Mr. Abrams on the SBEF Board of Directors.

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The minutes of the November 20, 2014 meeting are available below.

November 20, 2014 at 9_00 AM - Special
Download PDF • 81KB


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