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Applicants for the Pinellas schools' top job don't inspire much buzz

The candidates who want to lead the seventh largest school district in Florida include a principal from Pasco, a headmaster in Tanzania, a college dean from California and a former top state education official.

Fifty candidates applied by Monday's deadline to become superintendent of Pinellas County schools, the nation's 21st largest district with 104,000 students and a $1.3 billion budget.

None are chief executive officers or military leaders, non-traditional candidates the board said they would consider. More than a dozen are superintendents — but of smaller, out-of-state school districts.

And about a half-dozen come with the tint of recent scandal and community outrage. That included, according to published reports, a deputy superintendent in Memphis who resigned after remarking about a secretary's breasts and a Pennsylvania superintendent criticized for putting prayers on a school blog.

The list of candidates gave him a "little bit of heartburn," said Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association.

"I'm just concerned that I haven't seen any stand-out candidates with superintendent experience in a medium-sized school district — and by medium-sized I mean 40,000 to 70,000 students," he said.

Only three of the 17 Florida candidates generating the most buzz come from the top ranks of larger Florida districts. Another seven of the 17 come from the construction industry.

Five of seven board members said Monday they would conduct another search if they found the applicant pool lacking, but none were ready to say that yet.

Board member Linda Lerner said she believed the strongest candidates applied in the last week.

"Already, I can tell you there are three off-hand that I would want to interview," she said, declining to name names.

Board member Terry Krassner said she already crossed some names off her list, but said the real vetting — and considering whether to do another search — will occur when the board meets July 17 to name five finalists.

"I'm not going to settle for anything less than someone we have total confidence in," she said.

When they started the search a couple of months ago, board members said they wanted a leader with a minimum of 10 years of "successful administrative experience," including five years at a senior level in a school district of at least 25,000 students.

Those mentioned by some:

• Mike Grego: successfully steered Florida's request for a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements and is a former Hillsborough County assistant superintendent and Osceola County superintendent. He served for five months as Florida's interim chancellor for K-12 education.

• Constance Jones: has been chief academic officer for Lee County schools since 2003. She was an accreditation specialist for the Maryland Department of Education for one year. She was a finalist for the top job in Palm Beach County last year.

• Kathryn LeRoy: has been chief academic officer of Duval County schools since 2008. She also spent a year as chief officer of mathematics and science in Duval and served as executive director of science for the Miami-Dade school district.

Applicants with Florida superintendent experience include: Dennis Thompson, former superintendent who sued Collier County schools after the School Board voted not to renew his contract; Harry La Cava, former superintendent of Indian River County schools, who was forced to retire after participating in the state's deferred retirement program; and Wayne Alexander, former superintendent of Hernando County schools who was ousted about 10 months shy of his contract date.

Two internal candidates applied: Ron Ciranna, the district's assistant superintendent of human resources, and William Corbett, an area superintendent. Ciranna was superintendent of a small Michigan school district for about four years. Corbett was a principal before moving into his current role in August 2011.

So far, the applicant pool hasn't generated a lot of enthusiasm in the community.

Jim Jackson, candidate for the District 1 School Board seat, said the few that he thought looked promising on paper become less impressive with a little more digging. "If this is the quality we're getting, this isn't good enough for me."

Rene Flowers, candidate for District 7 School Board member, said no resumes blew her away. "I don't see a top five," she said.

Board member Glenton Gilzean, who is also running for District 7, said he was concerned there weren't as many minority or female applicants as he expected.

Gilzean said he even called staffers in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties — two districts with highly regarded superintendents, MaryEllen Elia and Alberto Carvalho, respectively.

"The response was, 'Leave my superintendent alone,' " he said. "At the end of the day, if we don't have the right candidates we should say, 'Let's scrap it and go back to the drawing board.' "

Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727)-893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Applicants for the Pinellas schools' top job don't inspire much buzz 07/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 3, 2012 12:16am]
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