Search firm didn’t report superintendent finalist’s controversial past

Documents reveal details about Madison superintendent search
Search firm didn’t report superintendent finalist’s controversial past

The consulting firm hired by the Madison Metropolitan School District’s Board of Education to conduct its search for a new superintendent didn’t notify the board about the controversial background of finalist Walter Milton Jr. in its background investigation summary, according to records.

Milton notified school board members in documents titled “Review/Explanation of Negative Press” that an Internet search about him would turn up some “negative” articles, which he said for the most part are “inaccurate or misreported,” according to documents the Madison Metropolitan School District released to WISC-TV under the state’s Open Records Law.

Board members said Milton produced the documents with explanations at his interview.

“When we interviewed him the first time, a number of those issues were presented by the board,” said board member Arlene Silveira. “They had been vetted, and there was information that showed they were resolved or were not what they reported to be.”

But questions remain as to how much the board knew about Milton’s history before he advanced in the process as a candidate to be interviewed.

The district is paying Ray and Associates, the Iowa firm that led Madison’s superintendent search, $31,000 for the search, said Rachel Strauch-Nelson, a district spokeswoman.

Multiple news reports discuss Milton’s controversial history at districts in three other states.

The (Middleton, N.Y.) Times Herald Record reported that a New York state audit revealed Milton had been overpaid by more than $44,000 and that he hired a convicted child molester during his two years at an area district.

Milton used the district’s credit card and got paid for things like video rentals, car washes and restaurant meals, the paper reported.

He also hired a former business partner, Julius Anthony, to a district consulting job where Anthony made $233,000. Anthony had been convicted of child molestation in Georgia, the paper reported.

Milton brought Anthony to his next superintendent job, in Flint, Mich., where he also made false claims on his resume and made a controversial pitch to close schools, The Flint Journal reported.

At his current district, in Springfield, Ill., Milton faced a $6.9 million budget shortfall and proposed cutting teaching jobs, The State Journal-Register newspaper reported.

In its candidate background investigation summary of Milton that it provided to the school district, Ray and Associates didn’t raise any questions about these reported incidents in Milton’s past, the documents show.

In a candidate questionnaire, when asked if there were any situations involving Milton, that the district would need to know about, which may impact his application for this position, Milton replied: “No. You can search and ask but you will not find any issues what so ever about me personally,” according to the documents.

Milton withdrew his application for the Madison superintendent position days before a scheduled community forum with him and the other finalist when questions arose about his past.

In the “Review/Explanation of Negative Press” document that Milton presented to the board, he argued that describing Anthony as a business partner is inaccurate. He said Anthony was falsely accused sexual misconduct in 1995-96 and “the final disposition found that he was not guilty.” Milton attached a court document indicating the not guilty decision.

He also said that the audit after he left the Fallsburg Central School District in Fallsburg, N. Y., was “motivated by anger on the part of some district stakeholders, because I did not move my family into the district.”

Milton wrote in the document that: “My spouse felt that the community was not diverse enough and therefore was not conducive for the overall development of my young family. I was commuting six hours, one-way, for almost three years so that I can spend the weekends and holidays with my family. The only reason that I desired to leave Fallsburg was because my wife had no interest in living there. It was imperative for me to keep my family together. However, this created angst with the Board and they did not particularly like the situation.”

Milton stated in the explanatory documents to the district, “I state here with certainty that none of the items about me in the audit report are accurate.”

In an attached letter from Milton’s attorney in the matter, the attorney indicated that Milton and the Fallsburg Central School District “have reached an amicable settlement.”

The Madison Metropolitan School District ultimately selected Jennifer Cheatham, chief of instruction for Chicago Public Schools, as the new superintendent for Madison schools.